How to Make People Feel Good about themselves

I’ve had some tough days this year.

I am not alone.

Covid is a physical disease, but the wider impact will be on the mental health of the billions who have been hit by the economic shutdown.

Who do you feel is struggling to keep things together?

Every single one of us has incredible power to lift up the spirits of the people that are around us. It requires a choice. It is harder when you are struggling yourself. It is important. The people around you need your leadership.

How can we help those around us feel good about themselves?

In the video, I share 3 ideas.

  1. Ask Questions
  2. Let them help you
  3. Shine a light on their strengths

Who needs your attention today? Who around you would benefit from a few minutes of facetime or skype or a phone call?

Influence: The 6 Moments of Power, How to Frame your Requests for More “Yes”

This video is about Cialdini’s 6 Moments of Power from his book “Influence”.

Here is Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”

About the Book

Influence, the classic book on persuasion, explains the psychology of why people say “yes”—and how to apply these understandings. Dr. Robert Cialdini is the seminal expert in the rapidly expanding field of influence and persuasion. His thirty-five years of rigorous, evidence-based research along with a three-year program of study on what moves people to change behavior has resulted in this highly acclaimed book.

You’ll learn the six universal principles, how to use them to become a skilled persuader—and how to defend yourself against them. Perfect for people in all walks of life, the principles of Influence will move you toward profound personal change and act as a driving force for your success.

Zero Executive Presence: “When I speak, people don’t listen. Why is that?”

Student: “When I speak, people don’t listen.  Why is that?”

Teacher: “It depends…”

It always depends…

There are many possible reasons that people don’t engage with you, don’t care about what you are going to say, don’t pay attention.

Rarely does anyone come to me and say “I need help.  I am boring.”

However, this condition is not uncommon.

Some people find that they never have anything to say to others, they are left alone at parties, no one invites them out more than once; they are shy, bland, awkward or bland.  Being boring is a serious social problem.  In general, boring people are inhibited, lack spontaneity, never take risks; boring people say things that are always predictable.  They say what they believe others want them to say.

Careful… you are boring me…

Boring people are squashed souls.  They have been made boring by their childhood environment.  Underneath the surface boring persona, there is a creative, childlike, vital person.  You can’t get there by shock tactics, you have to coax the inner child to push past the surface obstacles.

How can you develop executive presence?

14 Characteristics of Executive Presence

  1. You make others feel important and helpful
  2. You have an elegant way of approaching, engaging and getting to know others
  3. You smile and maintain eye-contact
  4. Your presence is felt once you walk into a room
  5. You inspire people; you are likeable and trustworthy
  6. People are curious to know more about you
  7. People want to build a relationship with you
  8. You are perceived as important, valued and respected
  9. You ask relevant and thought-provoking questions that begin a dialogue
  10. You are well read and share fresh perspectives
  11. You always leave a message that people remember
  12. You relate equally well with different types of people (regardless of hierarchy or rank)
  13. You positively impact others and those around you immediately
  14. You share and create opportunities for others

Interested vs Interesting

The key is to be interested in other people, their lives, their challenges, their dreams.  If you are interested in others, curious about their stories: you will not be boring.

Presence is about your effect on others, not any quality of you.

Teaching with Creative Indifference (or Impartiality)

Creative Indifference

My daughter checking the roses in my parent’s garden

A good gardener creates the conditions for growth of a garden, but cannot force the flowers to grow in an exact way.  The good gardener creates the conditions and accepts what arises.

The bad gardener fights what arises.  The bad gardener hacks and chops and fights against the natural growth of nature.

The good gardener changes the conditions and different plant shapes and varieties arise.

In each case the attitude of the gardener is “Interesting!  I wouldn’t have expected that.”  Creative indifference as a gardener is a deep curiosity, and an openness to delight in the million and one ways that nature can arise.

Good Teaching as Good Gardening

I want to teach more as a gardener than as a sculptor.

Up to now I often find that I am trying to remake a participant into my image of what she could be – I am metaphorically hacking off bits of stone and adding bits of paint.

A good gardener allows the plant to grow in its own unique way.  Nature is difference.  Nature is no straight lines, no leaf exactly like any other leaf, no flower exactly like any other flower.

I want to focus more on creating the conditions for growth in the classroom, during the breaks, during the lunches… that would allow the participants to grow in their own individual way – and have less fixed ideas about how each individual will use those conditions.  I want to be willing to allow the person to become who he is to become, rather than my ideal of what he could be.

The 3 Worst Things that We Learned as Children

Was school good for me?  I do believe so.

There are some very positive values that were inculcated in me through the way the teachers dealt with us, the stories we were told, the structure of the school:  compassion, gratitude, sharing, discipline, respect, charity, hope, love.

The 3 Worst Things We Learned As Children

However, there are some aspects that get deeply driven in to us as children that I don’t think are helpful to our productive adult life:

  • Conformity – Society crushes the outsiders, school is brutal on those who are outside the “norm”, grades push you to meet the pre-existing answer – not explore other options.  Most of life’s important decisions can not be calculated in an excel spreadsheet and solved with calculus.
  • Perfectionism – “Don’t make mistakes!” is reinforced day after day after day by the exam and school work feedback that we receive over years and years.
  • Validation – “how did you do on the exam?”  “I don’t know, I haven’t received the results yet.”   We learn to stop looking at how much of our potential we delivered into a course, a project, a homework – and start to only evaluate our performance based on someone else’s judgement of our finished work.  I know whether I gave 10% or 50% or 90% of myself to a piece of work – this should matter more than A, B or C.

Leadership requires breaking free from these 3 things.  Great leaders don’t seek external validation (No: “how did I do?”), understand that mistakes allow improvement (No: “who screwed this up?”) and that diverse people and diverse ideas (No: “that will never work!”) need to be brought together to see more fully the paths that are available.

Your School?

What are the important values that you took from your schooling?  What are the attitudes that do not serve you that were conditioned by school?

Further Reading: Posts on Schooling and Learning

The Quality of a Leader’s Intent

Two leaders in the same circumstances doing the same thing can bring about completely different outcomes. I’ve often wondered why.

It is more than just luck. It is an inner quality of certain leaders. There is a quality to certain people’s intent, capacity to observe without judging, capacity to see a new way to put the jigsaw pieces together that makes a big difference in the outcomes.

What can you do to be up with the best Leaders?

There are 2 areas where the best leaders excel:

  • Observation without comparing to the past; and
  • Flexibility in Execution.

Observe Non-Judgementally: Quality of Attention

Successful leadership depends on the quality of attention that the leader brings to any situation.

We have 3 major internal enemies to clarity of observation:

  1. VOJ – The Voice of Judgement “why do they always screw up like this!”
  2. VOC – The Voice of Cynicism “what does it matter anyway.”
  3. VOF – The Voice of Fear “who am I to push this? I am not even sure why I believe it is correct.”

Each of these voices stops a leader seeing something new in the situation.  They are mapping the data to a past experience, and they will probably reuse a past template for responding to the situation.  Old school, reactive communication.

The 4 Levels of Listening

Execute Mindfully: Quality of Action

Otto Scharmer believes there are also 3 enemies to quality execution:

  1. Reactive Action – executing without improvisation and mindfulness
  2. Analysis Paralysis – endless reflection without a will to act
  3. Blah blah communication – and talking without a connection to source and action

Take the course

Otto is currently teaching an EdX course on the U Model and how to put into practice these ideas of deep listening, sourcing new ideas and executing with mindfulness.  The course is U.Lab: Transforming Business, Society, and Self: Learn how to create profound innovation in a time of disruptive change by leading from the emerging future.  The hashtag is #ulab.

Looking forward to your reflections and comments if you join the course 😉

How Confident People achieve a Confident Mindset (In a Way Most People Don’t Know)

How do some people remain poised and confident where others are reduced to nervous wrecks?

I have been a student of the human condition for years.  It all started age 17 when I faced the tough life decision of what to do after school finished.

I decided to study psychology at university.  There were three reasons:

  1. I loved maths but could see that the content was distantly remote from anything that dealt with a real life problem.
  2. My school teachers were pressuring me to continue my mathematical studies at university.
  3. I react extremely negatively in the presence of adult pressure.

In reality, it was all number 3.  Given the option to rebel against adult opinions, my history will clearly show a consistent choice.

That is how I ended up at Nottingham University in a large lecture theatre surrounded by 300 first year undergraduate students.  The first lesson began when a slightly over-proud middle-aged woman walked onto the stage down below and said:

“I am Margaret Thatcher:”

Plenty of confused coughs and surprised faces.

After a pause, she said: “How do you know that is not true?  I mean, you do know that it is not true…  but what has happened to tell you that it is not true?  How do you know this?”

The next three years were spent between the bars and sports fields of Nottingham, but in my spare time I pursued the question of how human senses provide us with information that our brain can process into an answer “No, she is not Margaret Thatcher.”

That was 25 years ago.

I have spent the last 25 years seeking to understand people, first as a psychologist, then as a business consultant, then for the last decade as a teacher and sales-focussed entrepreneur.

Do you know how confident people manage to feel confident?

You may not want this answer.  You may be looking for something more mathematical, more abstract and theoretical.  You may be disappointed.

Some of the greatest problems have been solved with a very simple solution.  For 200 years the River Thames in London was horribly polluted and a source of illness.  For 200 years Kings, Dukes and Mayors had tried to clean it up.  No success.  Finally a politician came up with a simple law: “Anybody who uses the river must take water out downstream from where they return it.”  Within 4 years, river clean.

Often, simple fixes are the best.

You’re still with us… so here goes.  The answer to how confident people manage to feel confident:

Confidence. Photo: Daniele Nicolucci


Yes, they pretend.

They don’t listen to the inner voice that is telling them that they are not good enough, that they are the wrong person, that they don’t deserve to be here.  They get up and pretend.

It works because of a psychological concept called “Emotional Contagion”.

Emotional Contagion

Human beings return what they receive.  If you walk down a hallway with a massive smile on your face, you will get smiles back.  If you walk down a hallway with an angry grimace, you’ll get angry grimaces back.

If you pretend to be confident, people will respond to you as if you are the type of person who should be confident.  You will see this reaction of others and it will actually leave you feeling confident.

So, go channel George Clooney, or Madonna, or…  the most confident person you know.

All life demands struggle.

I often use an exercise called The Lifeline in my teaching.  I found a good summary of the exercise here.  In the exercise people reflect on the important positive and negative experiences of their life.

Something that has struck me after all these years of watching groups work on the exercise – it is the hard times in life and how we dealt with them that most inspires.  We are inspired by the struggle more than the end point.

“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” Henry Ford

I guess if an inspirational speaker came and gave a speech that went: “I had this idea to climb a big mountain, so I went there and I climbed it.  It wasn’t too hard and the view from the top was lovely.” – it wouldn’t be too inspirational.  It is what she had to overcome, the unexpected obstacles, the discovery of previously hidden strength – that I want.

This reminds me of rule number 6 from Kurt Vonnegut on rules for telling a story: “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.”  Pope Paul VI

A worthy struggle? Photo: Grant MacDonald

The Opposite of Fragile

What is the opposite of fragile?  I hear you saying “robust”, “strong”, “durable”, “flexible” or even “unbreakable”…  but these words are not the opposite, they are the zero point on the line from breaks under pressure to grows under pressure.

A wine glass when dropped on the concrete floor will smash.  It is fragile.  A plastic glass when dropped on the concrete floor will not smash.  It is “flexible and robust”.  However, there are some systems that when dropped, they come back even stronger.

Nasim Taleb coined the term “Antifragile” for things that grow under stress.  Evolution is a process by which species become stronger when stressed.  When I go to the gym, I actually damage my muscles – but they grow stronger as they repair.  A broken bone will heal stronger than the surrounding bone.

“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” Peter Marshall

We humans are “antifragile”.  We learn and grow faster in the struggle than in the garden.

10 Personal Habits of Resilient People

Take a moment and think about the people you know well.  

Who is the most psychologically resilient of your friends or family?  

Who would cope the best with major setbacks?  

Who would be able to keep their heads while all about them are losing theirs?

Resilience, my own photo (that’s my thumb…)

Dealing with Failure: Resilience

I was at the FC Barcelona football game last night with 2 friends, Jordi & Andre.  Barca beat Getafe 4-0.  Leo Messi made his return from injury.  He played for 20 minutes, and scored 2 impressive goals.

My friend Andre was excited because he has just published a book.  It is available in spanish.

His book is called “He fracasado, y que?”  In english: “I have failed, so what?”  He writes about his life as an entrepreneur, his ups (big) and his downs (big) in the journey of the last 20 years building businesses.

Andre is resilient.  He remains himself, independent of the challenges of the moment.  I have known him as he sold a business for €7M and I have known him in the worst moments of watching fall into bankruptcy.  He brings the same energy and discipline to each day, independent of the challenges of the day.  What is it that he does to allow this resilience?

Here’s a short list of Personal Habits of Resilient People, based on my personal experience of meeting many of them, interviewing them and writing about them:

Personal Habits of Resilient People

  1. Constantly Building Relationships – they care about others and how others are doing.  They listen deeply because they have a curiosity for learning about life in all its ways.  Victor Frankl spoke about this in “Man’s Search for Meaning” – living to serve others is a mission that allowed survival of Nazi concentration camps.
  2. Never Share Victim Stories – there are hero stories (I am responsible for the situation, I must change if I want the situation to change) and victim stories (“the traffic made me late”, “my boss won’t let me”, “nobody listens to me when I speak”).  I don’t hear many Victim Stories from resilient people.
  3. Forgive Themselves Quickly – they understand that the “me” of 2 years ago took the best decisions that the “me” of 2 years ago was capable of taking – I didn’t know then what I know now.
  4. Forgive Others Quickly – they understand that everyone is on a difficult journey of their own and face challenges that I am not aware of.  Often someone angry at me may have a sick parent, or a tough financial situation.
  5. Take Decisions Quickly – they don’t wait for perfect information. They take a decent decision with the information available and move on.  They understand that you can take another decision tomorrow – even reverse today’s decision if necessary.
  6. “Thank you” – to waiters, to investors, to toll-booth staff, to teachers, to cleaners…
  7. Reframe Constantly – They reflect upon their life and re-examine past experiences based upon today’s wisdom.  I find that my view of my childhood and 20s changes because I see frustrations, challenges and hard work differently now than I did when I was 25.  Back then I thought “I am gifted and I deserve success”, now I think “all meaningful work requires suffering”
  8. Forward Looking – the first instinct is to ask “what can we do now?” when faced with a setback, rather than “who’s fault is this?”
  9. 5 Pillars in Life – Pillars in life can be work, family, tennis, teaching, gardening, writing…  Resilient people have multiple deep interests.  They don’t live 100% for work or 100% for family.
  10. Separate “State” and “Person” – They understand that the state does not make the person – a state of bankruptcy is not a failed person – it is a momentary point on the journey.  Charles Barrington, the Irish climber who first summited the Eiger mountain in 1858 – was at the lowest point of the mountain at 3am and on the summit at midday – he was the same person at 3am and midday.  A resilient person understands that climbing mountains is not always uphill.

Read more on Resilience & Mental Strength

What else works for you?  What else do you see in the people who you would call “resilient” around you?

Loneliness and Aloneness

Loneliness and Aloneness are different.

Photo Credit: Camil Tulcan cc

Loneliness is an emptiness and the desire to fill this space with another person in the hope that the emptiness will be filled and removed. Loneliness is to be unhappy alone; and leads to misery together. Loneliness leads to a possessive relationship that is not love. It may begin with the chemistry in the brain we often call love, but it will be slowly transformed into misery as we adapt to the presence of the chemicals in the brain and it becomes less passionate.

Aloneness is an acceptance of myself.

A relationship is a mirror. It reflects. If I am happy and creative and attractive, the relationship can mirror these qualities. If I have nothing to show, the mirror will reflect nothing.

Learning to be happy Alone

There are 2 emotional orientations:

  1. Internal and
  2. External.

Internal emotional orientation is about the enjoyment of my own personal progress in understanding, improving, learning from the action.  If i love golf because I enjoy my level of mastery and am absorbed in improving my own short game then this would be internal emotional orientation.

External orientation is that I judge the success or failure of each action by its impact on my status, on how it compares with my friends, on how my friends view me.  If I love golf because my friends envy my ability at golf, this would be a external emotional orientation.

I am sometimes internally oriented (searching for meaning) and sometimes externally oriented (what do “they” think of me? is this useful? will it help someone?)

I switch between the two.  I can find that I spend a week where I am working hard on a document that is meaningful to me and in “flow”… and then something happens and I get distracted and spend 2-3 days paying more and more attention to what other people think, how many “likes” on fb, how many retweets.  Then I have a crisis moment, reflect and switch back to mode 1.

I guess they are both there because they serve a purpose.  The challenge is that great art can only come from mode 1, but a lot of useful learning comes from mode 2.  I can learn faster in mode 2, but at a certain point I need to leave behind mode 2 and fully live in mode 1.

Do you switch between the 2?  What makes the switch happen?  Why does it happen?  What do you do to be conscious of your mode?

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