Saturday, September 27, 2014

Week Thirty-nine – Feedback!

Perception is reality and what others see in us may not be true but it’s their reality!

This week I was very pleased to see how when someone wants to listen and it’s willing to listen, feedback really works. A couple of weeks ago I was visiting a colleague and I took the opportunity to give them some feedback. In my job it is vital to provide people with feedback as it allows them to change and improve and as a result drive better performance for both the individual and their business. But it isn’t always easy and people don’t always want to listen. As I was looking through my Facebook this week I saw how this person had taken on board what I had shared with them and started to focus on how to change; and change for the better. To me this is a great achievement not just for the person but also for me, as I feel that I have helped them to be just that little bit better. But as I have said already, the person must want to change in order for this to work.

I have always been fascinated by this subject as I think it is one of the most crucial skills any successful person must have, especially if you deal with people in your every day life. It is also a vital part of what makes us, and feedback is what helps us to improve, stay on the right path and become better human beings by understanding where things need to change or adjust. Let me share with you what I know and have learnt about feedback over the years as I have both practised it and received it as well as studied it and taught it during my time as a trainer.

The first thing to understand is where feedback comes from. In music feedback is what musicians use to be able to play on stage. You may have noticed before large speakers sitting on the floor at the edge of the stage facing the artist or singers, these are feedback speakers. They allow the singer/musician to be able to listen what everyone else is playing and allow them to sing or play in line with them. The speakers you listen to in a concert face outwards towards the audience therefore the musicians cannot listen clearly to them, without feedback speakers (essentially just speakers but pointing towards them) they would not be able to know what they are doing and be completely out of tune. In other words they need to know if they are playing the right notes/tunes so that they can sound good; this is feedback.

So when we talk about giving someone feedback, we are essentially that speaker that faces the singer and lets them know what note to sign so that they may sound good. We have to be that speaker that tells people what they need to do to be able to be better and good. It’s like a mirror, this is a form of self-feedback, when you look at yourself then you can judge if you are looking good or not. Of course this is subjective as you may think you are looking great and someone else looks at you and may think the opposite, nonetheless the mirror allows you to see yourself and therefore make a judgement.

But we don’t always have a mirror or a speaker to tell us how we are doing. Feedback comes in all sorts of forms and shapes and it is usually intended to help the person, although sometime it may not seem that way. But it is also a way of us expressing how we feel about someone’s behaviour. And this is when it gets tricky… as it can become personal and lead to conflict between you and the person. It is a skill and it needs to be learnt, as well as understood so you are able to provide feedback in an effective manner. When I talk to people about feedback I ask them the question “why people don’t like to give or receive feedback?” There are various answers; “it’s tough”, “to avoid conflict”, “don’t have the time, or care about it”. But the reality is that most of us don’t like to give or receive feedback because we have all been victims of “bad” or “inappropriate” feedback at some point in our lives! Our parents, School Teachers, family members and even friends have hurt us by a wrong comment, an unkind word or a “criticism” that is neither helpful or of any value. And it is not the context of the feedback that is the issue; it is the way it was delivered.

So what is the secret to being able to give and receive feedback? It starts with you. I learnt that you need to understand that whatever you do affects people around you, in some way or another, and therefore in order to be able to be the best at what you do, you need to listen to those around you, they have a much better view than you do (they are the mirror or speaker we talked about) Here is an interesting example; have you ever listened to your own voice in a recording? I’m sure you have and like everyone else thought “what a horrible voice I have!” Or “is that really me? Do I sound like that?” this is because we can’t hear ourselves. So when someone says to you that you are loud, you may think immediately “no I’m not!” and that’s because you can’t hear yourself and so they may be right, you may be speaking a little bit too loud.

“Perception is reality” this is one of my favourite phrases; yes you may think that person who just told you to lower your voice is wrong and that they are stupid because you don’t speak loud, in other words you are right, they are wrong! But in their perception, in their reality, you are loud. The key here is to understand what you have been told, not what you think is right. Your friends may not have shared with you that have a loud voice, it may not bother them, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to turn the volume down. Others may be bothered by it but not told you for fear to offend you. Or some may just simply don’t care enough about you to tell you. So if a person takes the time and care to share with you this information, run with it! Think, “ok, may be I do have a loud voice, may be I need to be aware of it and when I’m around this person I need to turn it down” You have now become a better human being, just by simply adapting. The person has not ask you to be quite in front of everyone, they told you that in their opinion you have a loud voice. Taking the feedback and doing something about it will serve you well not just with this person but also in other occasions where you may be aware that you have a loud voice and you may need to turn it down.

One last thing about feedback; it isn’t always just about what you do wrong, but what you do right. The best form of encouraging good behaviour is by rewarding good behaviour. The only way for someone to carry on doing what he or she does well is by letting him or her know they are doing well. How many of us have given up doing something because we don’t know if we are doing well? It is essential that we also praise and give positive feedback to encourage more good behaviour!

I’m always open to feedback, it’s the only way you can improve, I only wish I had more of it so I can excel in everything I do. I want to encourage all of you to start practicing giving feedback and let me know how I’m doing with my blogs? I’ve been writing my weekly blog for 9 months and so far I don’t know if I’m writing total and absolute rubbish that no one enjoys or reads! I know some of you have occasionally shared your thoughts, thank you; everyone else please let me know, I want your feedback!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Week Thirty-eight – Age, mental or physical?

“I’m never going to grow up” these were the famous words Peter Pan said as he flew back to Nederland.

 This week I celebrated my 47th birthday and the count down has began for me! When I turned 45 I labelled that birthday “the half way year” as I have set a personal goal to live, healthy and functionally, until the age of 90, anything after that is a bonus, but if I can just get to 90 knowing what I’m doing and moving about, then I’m happy. Crossing out the year has begun, as I get closer to my final destiny. You may think this is a depressing though, I’m on the way down, I’m now getting closer to the end of my chapter, but actually this helps me focus more and more on how to enjoy what I have left and plan how I will get there the way I want. So this “countdown” is a physical and metal training and preparation to get to my 90th birthday and still be able to blow my candles, have a dance and a whole bucket of KFC!

Reflecting on this thought and how will I get to my 90th birthday; I spent time observing and talking to people to get their views on age and getting old. First of all many of us know that you are only as old as you feel but I guess I don’t have to tell you this. Of course our physical as well as our mental state influence how we look and feel. Many people you talk to about this subject will agree with you that the mental part is essential to stay healthy and in one piece, to be able to reach your nineties! Over the weekend I attended a 1940’s party for which we all dressed up to join the celebrations. It was a charity event and the organiser was a lady who had actually been around in the 1940’s and so knew what the era was all about. So if you do the maths, to have been a young lady in the 1940’s she is at least in her 80’s. She of course did not revealed her age but one thing you could see is that she was full of energy and you could not believe she was anywhere near her 80’s. There were several people in that room that I am sure were also around in the 1940’s and looked great. We also had another lady who demonstrated again that you are only as old as you feel and despite her age she took over the dance floor, made us all laugh by swapping hats with various people and lasted longer on that dance floor than some much younger people. I am sure that the extra sherry she had may have helped but nonetheless, here there was a person who I aspire to be, someone living fully still in great shape both physically and mentally.

Now there is no doubt that some times unfortunate diseases and physical inabilities may take over and stop us from reaching an older age in good shape and there is nothing you can do about it, but in many cases where we are lucky or blessed and we do not face these difficulties, it is up to us to maintain ourselves as best as we can to fulfil this goal and live a healthy and energetic life for as long as we can. And there is not secrete recipe for it, or a fountain of youth you can drink from, or a hidden portrait somewhere in the attic that you can lock your age in, but there is you, the answer to getting there in good shape is ourselves!

I am not going to bored you with any health or fitness tips, I think you all have had enough of that from previous blogs and other sources, and I am sure everyone knows of the importance of staying fit. This is only a part of the deal, the physical maintenance of your body is like taking your car to the mechanic for service or a check up; yes we have to do this to keep our cars running but it is not just this that keeps the car roadworthy, it is the every day care you take of it making sure you drive carefully and don’t bump into corners or lampposts! So yes, do take care of your body whichever way you see fit, there is not question about it. However what keeps that car looking good it’s you. What makes your body fit also comes from you and from your state of mind.

It is proven that the brain controls our physical abilities; that what your brain tells your body, it will do. It is incredible and fascinating as you can literally control your physical abilities through your mind. I used to conduct a training session where we demonstrated the power of positive thinking and the effect it has on your physical abilities, let me share with you the exercise. We would take a participant and ask them to extend their strongest arm sideways. Mirroring them, standing side by side with the opposite arm, I would try to push their arm down asking them to resist as much as they could. Generally most people would put up a fight and I would struggle to push their arm down.  I would then introduce a negative though in their head, usually by asking them to hold a cigarette near their nose with the other arm and smell it. We would talk about the consequences of smoking and the fact that it kills you or gives you lung cancer. We would then repeat the exercise and this time I was able to push their arm down without a fight; they had lost physical power. There are always sceptics who would say that the cigarette was a distraction and therefore they were concentrating on it rather than the arm. To prove the power of this exercise I would then remove the cigarette and introduce a pleasant smell that reminded them of something positive in their lives, something about their childhood. We all store smells in our brains that remind us of events in the past and when you smell that scent again it brings back those memories. Arm stretched, scent on the other hand and nose just like the cigarette, I would push again and this time their power was back on and I could not push their arm down. The brain was back on positive mode and their body was being told this.

Physical ability comes partly from training and keeping in shape, but partly also from what your brain tells your body. When we suffer pain we try to distract ourselves, this is a way of our brain trying to tell our body that the pain is not there. So if we want to get to an old age and still be able to rock on the dance floor at your 90th birthday party, we have to not only prepare ourselves physically but mentally too.  Remember, you are only as old as you think!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Week Thirty-seven – it’s the circle of life!

What goes round comes round and everything eventually will come back in fashion!

From the Old Motorola to the new i-Phone 6 Plus... and everything else in between! 

This week I was overly exited at the arrival of Apple’s conference, which took place, as every year, to announce some new exiting products. If you are an Apple fan you have worked out their cycle of announcements and products and it is around about this time when they come up with something new. It is over two year that they brought us the i-phone5 with the subsequent upgrades of S and C and we have all been waiting the arrival of the new i-phone 6 and this time it comes with it’s twin big brother the i-phone 6+, a larger version and strikingly similar to the Samsung Galaxy. As with Samsung, they have also brought the i-watch to go along with the phone.

But this week’s blog is not a review of the new Apple products or about how exited I was to watch it all being unveiled live on the Internet (though that would make a good blog, “how sad am I to spend two hours watching grown men talk about a phone and a watch?”) No, this week’s blog is all about the circle of life, what goes round comes round… let me explain what I mean.

After getting over the excitement of seeing the new phones I began to think which would I get, the 6 or 6+. As they are currently not physically available, you can only imagine what they are like and what they feel like in real life. Currently I carry one to many mobile devices with me; I have my work laptop, my personal laptop, my i-pad, my work phone, my personal phone… yes I am not kidding you! And in the back of my mind I am always thinking I need to ditch some of them! I went to the website and compared the phones to see what are the major differences. In terms of performance, of course, the higher the phone the better, and the 6+ has better potential. One thing I have learnt in technology is that it pays off to get the highest specification, it will last you longer and it wont get antiquated too soon or stop performing because of the ever fast changing technology world. This made me think I should get the 6+ and be done with anything in between. When you put them together you can more or less figure out the differences in size between them but without actually seeing it, I am still struggling with what it would be like to have the 6+. Eventually I took my i-pad mini and compared it with the i-phone 6+ to try and get a notion of its size. Whilst doing this I had an idea; If I am to reduce the number of devices I carry, getting the 6+ could replace the i-pad mini, as they are closer in size (the i-phone 6+ has a 5.5 inch screen which I think is decent enough to work on). I use the i-pad for when I travel to read e-mails and general browsing without having to open either of my laptops (the phone is no good for longer periods, you get a finger ache, your eyes get tired and I can’t type for too long as my fingers are too fat and the words come out wrong!) so that was it! Dilemma solved! I will reduce the number of gadgets and buy the i-phone 6+!

My passion for technology has existed for years and I remember buying my first mobile phone almost 20 years ago! Now if you can cast your minds back to the mid 1990’s, mobile phones in those days looked similar to the bricks we use for build houses! Motorola was the leader in the market and the phone I had was the one that had the antenna you had to pull out before making a call, the flap you had to open to dial the numbers and it’s enormous battery was actually three quarters of the actual phone, was sexy and it was cool if you had one! You always carried it on a leather pouch, which you hanged on the side of your belt, as the dam thing was too big to put in your pocket. It was a great phone but it was also too big!

And towards the late 90s the era of making everything small began! It wasn’t just phones that were big back then, it was everything; your desktop computer occupied half of your desk and the monitor needed a foot long of space behind them to fit its enormous body, laptops were just coming out and they weren’t laptops, they were smaller desktops that flipped open and weigh a ton to carry around! Televisions were so big; you needed three people to carry a 32-inch monitor and a van to deliver it! Everything was big and we needed to make it small. And slowly but surely we went into reducing things, computers became smaller, flat screens and monitors were invented, laptops became tiny and light and mobile phone became so minute it was almost impossible to talk and listen at the same time! The world of technology became small and even your sim card shrank to a small piece of plastic call Nano sim card. The world had conquered smallness!

All exited about saving for my i-phone 6+, the next day I went to work, carrying my work laptop, my i-pad and my work phone. At the back of my mind there was the picture of my i-phone 6+. Everyone was talking about the new Apple products, and everyone knows I love Apple so they were asking me about what I was going to get. By the way, there are people who do not care about technology and still don’t have a smart phone and in a conversation with a group of people, someone’s phone rang and they answered it. I looked at it and for a moment I was transported back in time and saw one of my old phones, a tiny minute Nokia phone which can hardly reach your ear and mouth at the same time, this was an old handset, the ones that got really small! And suddenly it hit me like boulder rolling down a hill! It’s the circle of life! Even technology cannot avoid it!

My passion for mobile devices began 20 years ago with a humongous handset by Motorola and over those 20 years I was always looking for the next smaller model to have. Here I am, 20 years later and I am looking for the biggest model I can have! I’ve gone back a full circle, I am going to have a mobile phone that is as big, if not bigger, than the one I bought all those years ago! We are evolving, yes, and technology gets better and faster, but we are also going back a full circle and everything is getting big again! Mobile phones, Samsung began this with it’s Galaxy S, computers; screens are getting bigger again, flat, but bigger, Televisions; you need an enormous living room to fit in the new 70 inch televisions in the market! Even airplanes, from concord to the new A380 Airbus! It’s the circle of life - you can’t avoid it!

Apple is marketing it’s new phone “bigger than bigger” I wonder how much bigger things will get before we go back to being small?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Week Thirty-six – #keepcalm

#keepclam – it’s only life!

#keepcalm #itsonly #life

First week of September and is week thirty-six of my blog and is the week I return to work after a well deserved vacation. During my time off I was able to relax, reconnect and rekindled with family, friends, and myself and as you know if you read week thirty-four, I also stayed in touch with work. So all refreshed I left at 5 am Monday morning back to work, travelling to the beautiful city of Istanbul in Turkey. What could possibly go wrong?

As I arrived at Heathrow’s terminal 1 I went to the automatic boarding pass gate. I scanned my boarding pass and the message “seek assistance” came up, so I did by glancing over at the guard next to the automatic gate saying, “can you help me?” He looked at me, and growls “come over hear”. I calmly walked across and showed him my boarding pass, he stared at me saying “I don’t have a magic button I can press from here you know!” For a moment I through “what is that all about? I only did what the machine asked me to – seek assistance!” I was ready to pounce back at him; after all I’d just did what I was told and it was not my fault he was in a foul mood and having a bad day! But good instinct and two weeks of chilling out kicked in and as if by magic I was transported back to last week’s lessons I had learnt -“be happy” and that amazing picture I saw in the restaurant in Marbella “what a wonderful day, someone is bound to come and mess it up!” This guy was certainly trying to do this!!!

I walked away thanking him and smiling, which I am sure really messed up his head, he was looking for a fight! And as I approached security and stood in line I said to myself “it’s a wonderful day, I’m not going to let anyone mess it up”. Metaphorically speaking I was not just referring to that day but to life in general. If I am to write blogs which in turn are meant to be lessons of life that I share with you all to help people be better every day, I should take note of those lessons myself; and so I smiled and began to take my belt off. No I was not going to strip off with joy in the middle of the airport, I was getting ready to go through security, I like to make their job easier by simply removing everything that can possibly make me beep! I find security searches at Heathrow Airport over intrusive, bordering to sexual harassment, so better make sure I don’t beep, don’t want to be touched in places no other has reached by the big hairy guy on the other side!

I didn’t beep, I was off the hook this time, no touchy feely from the big hairy security guy but the man behind me did and he was not happy! I knew how he felt and there was nothing he could do about it. He started to complaint, bad idea, as these guys have the power to stop you from boarding the plane. I was feeling so chilled that if it had been me standing there getting sexually harassed by security, I would have just remembered my picture and carry on keeping calm. I left and he was still there, arguing! Who knows, may be he never made his flight letting someone mess up his day!

Every week I am more and more convinced that everything in life works if you want it to work. I guess week thirty-six is the test week for this! As I continued my journey to Istanbul, I noticed how people were getting exasperated about various events happening in their day, and mostly driven by others who came and “messed up” their day. As I landed at Frankfurt airport to change my flight, a gentleman behind me pushed his way to the front of the plane to disembark, he was clearly late for his connection (we had taken off slightly late) as so many of us but the difference between him and me was that I would keep clam; if I miss my flight I can always take the next one. What was interesting about this situation, apart from the fact that he annoyed half of the passengers as he pushed and shoved his way to the front, is that he didn’t realised we were in an “apron” position, this is where your plane is parked miles away from the terminal and busses take you to the gate. So his whole effort to get to the front had been in vain! But wait, this isn’t the best part – as he realised there are busses waiting for us, he started to scream and shout to the cabin crew as if it was their fault we were parked away from the terminal and demanded from them to do something! What can the cabin crew or even the pilot do? Here is where “keep calm” really applies; it’s a losing battle, there’s nothing you can do! When we finally arrived at the terminal I leisurely walked to my gate, and just as well I did not stressed about being late, the plane was faulty and we were facing a three-hour delay to Istanbul!

At the gate I’m surrounded by a sea of unhappy people whose day has been messed up and their unhappiness is messing up someone else’s day; the ground staff who I felt sorry for as people where coming over to the desk and angrily making ridiculous remarks – “why three hours?” can’t you hurry it up?” “what are you going to do about it?” and “why can’t you just get another plane?” yea, as if these people can magically get another plane! Surely there is a spare one in the garage! LOL. I, on the other hand, was actually pleased as I could use the time to catch up with e-mails and do some work, taking advantage of this unforeseen situation. So I walked calmly to the lounge and had a very productive three hours waiting for the plane. By the way, whenever there is a faulty plane, I rather wait three hours and get on one that works; I don’t want to risk my life just to get to where I need to. I’m sure many of these angry customers did not realised that this is the main reason for the delay! Once we got on the plane, three hours later, there was a further half an hour delay as some passengers did not show up and they had to remove their luggage, the container transporter broke and they couldn’t place the container back into the plane. I couldn’t help thinking “is this a test? What else could go wrong!”

I guess it was a test, my first day back at work and everything that could test my patience was happening to me! It’s like a carpenter turning up to work and he has no wood or tools to do his job, or the baker’s oven is broke and the bread has burnt – I travel for a living and all these events disrupt my work! But if I cannot keep calm and accept that these things can happen in my day, then everything I have shared, as lessons of life with you over the last 35 weeks, has been a waist of time! Life is so much better when we enjoy it, when we keep calm, when we accept that things will happen and some things you cannot change or influence and all you can do is adapt and turn things around to your advantage. Don’t let people or things mess up your day and remember, keep calm, after all its only life!