coaching topics, Self-reflection

Using Values to Understand Behaviour and Choices

I hate shouting. I hate being shouted at and I hate it when other people are shouting at each other. It makes me feel sick and shaky. I tend to withdraw and back away both physically and emotionally. It affects the rest of my day and returns to me at night (or more likely 5am the following morning). Some would consider this an over-reaction, and I know that other people don’t react in the same way as me.

I have an extreme reaction to shouting (even when I am not directly involved) because it is in conflict with three of my Key, or Core, Values – those of “Respect”, “Kindness” and “Calm”.

After my children were born, I went through a spell of anxiety and depression, as do many. I was encouraged and supported to work through some exercises to try to understand what triggered the worst of these episodes, which is where I came across the concept of core values.

My core values are respect, integrity/authenticity, kindness, helping others, learning, reflection, curiosity, hard work, calm, and independence. The strength of any individual Value ebbs and flows, but they all tend to be there to some extent. They help my sense of identity and guide some of the choices I make. They also give me the words to explain why I make certain choices (why I became a coach for example).

Understanding my own values, and that everyone has their own values which may or may not be similar to mine, also helps me understand my response to various situations and to “dampen” down unhelpful (to me) responses. In the shouting example, I wouldn’t say I didn’t still feel horrible, but I will be telling myself “OK, this is clashing with your core values so you are going to find it horrible – it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world”. Followed by “just because to me shouting is disrespectful and unkind  – and these are things that are important to me – they may not mean the same things to those involved so they probably aren’t doing it to deliberately cause you pain”. If I were more closely involved in the situation I might say (usually afterwards): “I hear your frustration at the situation, but I really value respect and to me shouting is not respectful and therefore it makes it hard for me to listen/ understand when you are shouting”. It doesn’t always stop the shouting because my response may clash with a “self-expression” Value for someone else, but I do feel like it gives me more power over my response to the situation.

Understanding some of my other values  has helped me understand why  I get frustrated with my 10 year old – he is still very much at the stage at which Values start to form but he certainly does not currently share my “hard work” and “learning” Values – though we share more of the “kindness” and “helping others” Values. It is an open question as to how much it is advisable to try to pass on my “hard work” and “learning” Values to him on a daily basis (especially during home-learning situations) but helping narrow my frustration down to the conflict with these specific values helps me move away from feeling like I am generally frustrated with him, which in turn makes for more positive interaction the rest of the time.

Only recently have I come to realise how strong my values of “integrity” and “authenticity” can be. They have shown up in 2 big ways over the past few years.

  • I had a colleague who would say completely different things depending on who was in the room. For example they would be very supportive of my ideas 1-2-1 but when I presented the same ideas in a larger meeting, they would pick them to pieces and explain why they were wrong. This was annoying – but it gradually struck me that it wasn’t the picking apart per se that was the problem, but the change in tack from the 1-2-1 to the larger meeting. In other words the lack of authenticity in that person. I stopped valuing their opinion so much and moved to work with others whenever I could.
  • My new career relies on me building relationships with clients, both on the coaching side and the consultancy side. This includes writing content for social media. I started a bit haphazardly to write some articles from a very formal standpoint, and others from a more relaxed, personal perspective. Guess which ones brought me both more satisfaction and more engagement from others? Showing up authentically gives me energy, joy, and hopefully clients! I am working in a way that is aligned to my core Values.

Finally, a note that it isn’t always necessary to understand where those Values come from – they are usually a combination of life experiences, peer influences, cultural background. I have some idea of where some of my values come from, but I don’t focus on this (either positively or negatively) most of the time. It’s enough to name them and understand how they influence my responses and choices now and moving forwards.

If you’d like to find out more about Values and how I use them in coaching sessions, you can find that in this blog.

A Coachee's Guide to..., coaching topics

A Coachee’s Guide to….. Values

Your Values represent what is important to you in life. Knowing your Values can help you understand what drives you, what you enjoy, what inspires you and what you would like more of.

values quote

I often use Values as a framework in coaching sessions where the coachee wants “something to change” or “something to be different” or feels that “something isn’t quite right”, and often when they say “I don’t know what it is exactly but…..”

Understanding your values may guide you in the choices you make, or help you understand your responses to situations. For example, if you value family you might try to spend more time with them, if you value independence you might feel overwhelmed when you don’t have your own space, or choices are made for you.

Understanding the values of those around you, can help understand the differences in the way people behave or respond.

Knowing how your personal values overlap with the values of your workplace can help motivate you and find more fulfilment at work, or find the “right” place to work for you.

It’s important to remember that some values tend to be quite stable over time, whilst others may change. For example, at the start of your career, success and finances or adventure might be your Key Values. At other times family or friends might be more important. Your Values can also be situational eg. what’s true for you at work may not be true for you at home.

So how do you identify your values?

Many coaches, particularly Life and Career Coaches use value identification exercises and lists of “example values” can be found using a straightforward google search. However, these lists can be quite intimidating and some psychologists feel that they “lead” people to fall into certain typical values.

Coaching questions that might start to identify values include “What’s important to you about this situation at this moment in time?” or “What makes this the thing that you want to work on now?” I have two more structured ways of identifying values that I use in coaching.

Firstly – the word based version – typically I would present coachees with a list of common values (some examples might be “learning”, “family”, “success”, “health”, “respect”, “curiosity”, “career”) and ask you to fairly quickly identify up to 10 words that stand out to you. Then I would ask you to identify the top three – sometimes imagining that you have to pack a case to take away with you and can only fit three in. Sometimes we might even identify the top 1, but often your top three is the most useful to work with.

The second option is one that I use with people who prefer images to words. There are two slightly different versions of this.

20200113_100534 In a one-to-one face to face session I might use a set of cards with images on and get you to select those they are particularly drawn to. Although the cards have words on the reverse, these aren’t always what you associate with the picture so I tend not to turn them over! (For example, these images to me represent calm, curiosity, independence fun, warmth and knowledge – but they probably mean something totally different to you!)

 

 

balloonFor an online coaching session, I might ask you to do a bit of pre-work  find images from the internet, magazines, photos etc that you are particularly drawn to. During the session, you would share those with me over a video call and we would work to understand what the images mean to you and what insight you get from thinking about them into their values. (For example, this image represents both “reflection” and “calm” to me, as well as “independence”.)

Once you have identified your Values – we then look at whether these give any insight into what “isn’t quite right” or “needs to be different” or helps you make choices or decisions.

My own experience is that identifying and reflecting on my Values has given me a sense of identity and an understanding of why certain parts of my previous role left me buzzing and exhilarated whilst others left me drained. Knowing my Values has also helped shape what I do now as a coach and diversity and inclusion specialist. Finally, it helps me understand my own response in some challenging situations… but that is a whole other blog post!

 

coaching topics

Control – getting a grip or letting it go

I have at times been called a “control freak”. It’s not been meant as a compliment (though there are some situations where being a control freak is absolutely a good thing – health and safety, etc etc). I had not heard it for a couple of years, but in the last couple of weeks, those I love, with the best of intentions, have let me know that they will be using this term again shortly unless I change my behaviour.

I hate feeling “out of control”. The reasons for this are complex and many, and generally in the realm of therapy rather than coaching, so I’m not going to go into them here. Suffice it to say that when we have such strong feelings about this type of behaviour, it is usually a combination of experience of negative outcomes of being out of control, internalising other people’s opinions and views on “control”, and fear of strong emotions or strong display of emotions.

When I feel things are “out of control” – there is a physical change in me – i don’t breathe properly, and I find it impossible to sit still. My brain function changes – I forget things, I can’t focus. My behaviour changes – I don’t listen as well and I tend to communicate much less well with those around me. My defence mechanisms are well and truly triggered. To try to bring things back “under control” I make endless lists, I take on even more responsibility for more things – because it is “easier and quicker to do it myself” and I hover when other people are doing things to make sure they do it “right”.

In coaching I often use the “Circle of Influence” with clients who are experiencing this type of challenge.

Influence circle

The basic idea is that we all have things we worry about but only some of those things can we influence. And even fewer can we control. We work to assess where all our worries and concerns actually fit in order to reduce overwhelm, “let go” of things that will never come under our control and understand that at best we may be able to influence them, or usefully “get a grip” on things that we are worried about that we can control (hint, there are fewer of these that you think and it’s usually limited to YOUR behaviour, YOUR response, YOUR words, YOUR actions).

What I realised I was doing in the past couple of weeks as a defence method was to try to expand my Circle of Control into things that are, in reality, at best, in my Circle of Influence. For example: I can control whether I order food for delivery – I can’t control exactly when it will arrive or exactly what will be in it (though I can influence this by specifying substitution or not). Obsessing over  delivery times just resulted in frustration when timings slipped due to demand on the suppliers and wasted time that could have been spent doing more fun stuff. Likewise, I can’t actually control how much effort my 10 year old puts into his school work. I can try to influence in a variety of ways, but at the end of the day even if he stays sat at the table, I can’t really control what he writes, unless I do it for him. As an educator I know this behaviour is at best unhelpful.

It is always easier to coach others than to coach yourself but this week I am trying to focus on visualising the circles when I start to feel like the “control freak” is looming. Asking myself whether this is really something I can control, or whether it is something I can at best influence, or whether it is even something I need to be concerned about (I find letting go of things entirely quite difficult) is turning out to be somewhat useful. With practice, I may be able to push the unnecessary control freak away for another few years.

(Interestingly, though I hate feeling out of control, I love rollercoasters. Perhaps this is because my trust in the laws of physics means that I know that from that point of view I am not really out of control bar genuine accidental machine or human failure).

 

coaching, coaching topics

A Coachee’s guide to….. a coaching session

So you’ve signed up for, or are interested in, a coaching session. But what does that actually mean? Do you need to do anything in advance? Will the coach ask me weird questions? Will I end up discussing my childhood? Will I be given lots of homework?

All of these are questions I have been asked when working with a new client!

Basically, each coaching session with me will have a broad overall structure that follows a well-used coaching model called GROW: growth

Goals: We focus on defining a clear aim for the session (or the programme of coaching AND this particular session)

Reality: You tell me about your situation, in your words. I might ask questions that encourage deeper reflection from you, identify any recurring patterns of behaviour, or prompt you to look at the situation from different perspectives. There are no set questions – it depends on you and the situation you bring to coaching.

Options: Depending on your goal for the session we would likely move to thinking about possible options, considering the pros and cons, maybe brainstorming as many as possible before settling on the ones you think are right for you.

Will: This is where we come towards the end of the session and identify actions and next steps on your adventure. This might give you some “homework” but it is entirely up to you whether you do it. I won’t be checking unless you ask me to to help accountability.

This is a broad structure but not all sessions will do them in this order. It is common to got from options to reality and back to options. Sometimes you realise that the goal we started with isn’t the actual goal. And, for people booking the 3 or 6 hours of coaching, often the entire first session is all about Reality and a little bit of Goals. Coaching tends to look forward rather than delve into the past – though sometimes it can be useful to identify any repeated patterns.

It is also important to remember that this is about you. Every session that I do is tailored to your needs on that day. If I ask questions that aren’t helpful for you, or use a technique (ways to organise thoughts etc) that doesn’t feel comfortable, then we will get you moving forward another way (though sometimes a bit of discomfort can make you see new solutions). Not a problem. All  I ask is that you are open-minded and honest in the sessions.

 

coaching topics, Work-life balance

Balance or blend?

Work-life balance, juggling roles and responsibilities at work, at home and in the community are topics that often crop up in coaching conversations. Many times they are not the original focus of the coaching, but because I coach the whole person we tend to at least spend some time talking about how work and life fit together. What follows is a slightly modified version of a 2016 post from my blog elliehighwood.com when I was reflecting on my own situation. 

Life may not be a box of chocolates, but could it be a cup of tea?

tea2

The term “work-life” balance is much used and much-discussed. Many surveys and magazine articles discuss whether your “work-life balance” is as you want it to be. In Athena SWAN applications (gender charter mark for universities and research institutes run by the Equality Challenge Unit) we are asked to discuss how the University is supporting “work-life balance”. Typically we talk about core hours, nursery care, and any family friendly policies we have.

However, many people object to the term “work-life balance” itself, and I can see why. Balance implies the two things are playing against each other… increase attention on one and the other must pay. How meaningful is it to imply that we are only alive outside of work? Many people are at least partially defined by the work that they do, or by their actions at work. Others are predominantly driven by the work that they do… and the term work-life balance somehow suggests that these people should “get a life”.

The alternative term work-life blend has been around for a while. The thinking behind the term is that in the modern world, with new technology etc, then for many people it is entirely possible to take care of some work things from home and some home things from work. Of course this isn’t possible for all roles… particularly those in the front line service industries, and manufacturing. The other reason for adopting this term is also that it removes the negative connotations of “balance”. With a “work-life blend” a much more diverse set of existences seems possible, all equally valid, and things are not in tension with one another in the same way (there are however only a limited number of hours in the day and therefore there must remain some tension!). More recently “work-life integration” has started to be used – I am still thinking about what this means for me. 

I have previously been rather resistant to the word “blend”. Perhaps it’s because I was thinking about it in terms of paint… if you mix lots of different paint colours together you inevitably end up with a murky mess that isn’t particularly enticing. I also worry that it means never being “off duty” from work, and I at least need to give my mind and body a change of scenery sometimes and find it hard enough to be properly “present” at times outside work as it is.

However, I might be changing my mind.  In 2016 the University of Reading Edith Morley lecture was given by Karen Blackett, OBE, CEO of media.com. She spoke about having “banned” the term “work-life balance” in her company, using instead, “work-life blend”. Uh-oh, I thought. I’m not sure I can buy that. But then Karen talked about having 6 well defined and non-negotiable strands to your blend, for example fulfilment at work, effective parenting, and such like, and using this to discuss your working practices with managers etc.

And this morning I thought of a new description for “blend”  – a careful combination of different ingredients that are not subsumed by each other but together make up something delicious and supporting. In other words…  my favorite English Breakfast tea!