What’s in it for me?


I have been meaning to cover the topic of different ways to motivate people for ages. But with the book (named after this very blog!) taking up any writing time, it’s been on the back burner.

Lucky for me, I have been coaching a senior client who decided to take the writing into his own hands after one of our sessions!

The results of focusing on different motivations have been pretty impressive for him. Tangible and measurable. Trust him. He’s a lawyer…

Motivation Blog – John Kushnick, MD Garvins Law


The issue of what motivates individual members of staff arose as a result of some very useful feedback from my direct Reports – it appears that I didn’t know what made them drag themselves into work every morning.

I had never really thought much about this before, assuming that everyone would obviously be the same as me. Why wouldn’t they?!

My first port of call after some tips from my inspirational coach Dulcie was that font of all knowledge, google. This took me to a couple of very useful articles: 9 Types of Motivation that Make It Possible to Reach Your Dreams by Dylan Buckley and 10 Types of Motivation: What They Are & How to Use Them, by Evan Tarver. Are these the best, the last word on these subjects? Who knows! It’s a long time since I’ve immersed myself in academia. What I can say is that they pricked my interest, unlocking that part of my brain that was looking at motivation but hadn’t let me know. Tricky things these brains.

I started by boiling down their work into 2 categories and 9 types of motivation.

The Categories are overarching and the types of motivationcan appear in each:

1. Intrinsic: these people are motivated by internal rewards like fulfilment and contentment. This is about what is within that person rather than external rewards. It might also include the desire to avoid negative outcomes that are self- rather than externally-imposed. For example, they may have a strong fear of making mistakes, of failure, whereas the employer puts no such pressure on them.
2. Extrinsic: these people are motivated by external rewards like a bonus or raise as well as negative external factors like getting fired.

I then narrowed down the Types of Motivations to 9. The articles use slightly different terms but I was satisfied in the end that the following was the best way for me to separate out the key motivating factors:

1. Incentive/Salary – commit to actions due to the expected rewards. This is a classic motivation and one that is as valid as any other, although perhaps not destined to lead to the most truly rewarding working life.
2. Fear – act to avoid painful consequences of failure. This may be intrinsic (the employee’s own fear of failure) or extrinsic (where the employer has a history of moving on those who fail to meet targets). This is not necessarily one to encourage but it can be effective – please bear with me! One of my Reports is driven by a fear of the regulator and this means that she will ensure that her team work diligently and accurately so as to ward off the perceived risk of the firm being shut down for poor performance. It will not be a surprise that this person’s other main motivating factor was Recognition (see below).
3. Power – act in order to control own working life and/or others. This can appear to be somewhat negative but the employee motivation for power may be altruistic, to get the job done effectively rather than power for its own sake.
4. Recognition – I am recognized & respected by others. This is a powerful motivator. Who among us didn’t blush with pride when given a compliment by a teacher? If as a manager you get this right then you have an employee who will be self-motivated to go above and beyond for you; just top them up with praise and awards, step back and watch the needle go off the graph.
5. Competence & Learning – learning new skills is reward enough. Work should always be about challenges and I can’t think of any business where there’s been anything but radical change over the last few years.  This makes this employee an invaluable member of the team. While many want certainty and stability (see below) others want to rise to the challenge and help make your business future proof – or at least keep up with the breakneck changes. It is therefore vital to provide these employee’s with the right environment to stay ahead of the learning curve.
6. Autonomy – “I do it my way”. This is a more individual based version of Power in many ways; maybe more of an introvert. A valuable member of your team with this motivation will need to be protected from those trying to exert Power over them.  The challenge will be to manage and harness their talents within the framework of the needs of the business without letting them disappear into their world at one extreme or feel micro managed at the other.
7. Stability – “I like to know the future”. Not everyone wants or can cope with constant change. They will work best in an atmosphere where they are given very set tasks and sheltered from change while it is still being debated. They will have to be carefully managed when change becomes inevitable so that they can focus on all that stays the same rather than stress about the changes.
8. Status – “I have social standing” This can go hand in hand with Competence & Learning and is a more visible version of Recognition. It may sound a little big headed but need not be. For example, the status as an expert may be required to make it easier for that employee to train others.
9. Teamwork – “I am a member of the group”. This is a classic motivator and one that must always be encouraged. Like ants we all achieve far more together than we can on our own.

Having reviewed the subject and written the Motivation Pro Forma I sent it, ahead of their meeting, to my Reports together with a copy of the articles and a summary of what I was trying to achieve. I asked them all to think about theirtop 2 motivating factors ahead of the meeting so that we could discuss what they were and how I could best motivate them.

What was interesting was the degree that those who had (correctly) fed back about my lack of knowledge of their motivation actually lacked any real knowledge of it themselves! While this may at first blush appear to be a disadvantage it actually proved extremely useful in opening up the process so that we could both truly understand what motivated them.

We went through the categories and types of motivation and discussed what each meant to them. This allowed us to get a far more nuanced version of what their key motivating factors were, rather than just using the headline names. For example, while some saw Power as a negative, denying that they wanted the raw sounding control over others, one employee saw Power more as a way to obtain the best results for the company by controlling their work processes proactively.

By taking notes about their views about each motivation type and highlighting their top 2 Motivation Types I was able to get a full picture of what they needed from me. Interestingly it also gave my Reports some insight into what they wanted from their jobs. It is amazing how easy it is to spend so much time at work without ever really thinking what we want out of it!

Something else that was a pleasant surprise was that no one chose Incentive/Salary in their top 2: this is not to say that it was not seen as important, but rather that this is an outcome rather than an aim in and of itself. We all go to work in order to be paid (that’s why it’s called work and not play) but it’s a sad state of affairs if that’s our main reason.

By understanding my Report’s true motivation I can achieve the perfect Win Win scenario of improving their experience at work which should also lead to their becoming more productive and effective. Now why wouldn’t I be motivated by that?

Here is a version of John’s questionnaire that you are welcome to download and use.

Motivation Type – Pro Forma

Are MBTI/Insights/Personality Profiles still worth doing?


Quick answer. Yes

3 BIG caveats

1) Use wisely and get someone to help you interpret profiles in line with the latest neuroscience and psychology, rather than relying just on the various commercialised products arising from Jung (MBTI/Insights etc) or Marston (DiSC etc) Brilliant minds and some great subsequent interpretations. But Jung/Marston did published their original works on psychological types on which these tools are based in 1921 and 1928 respectively and things have moved on a bit.

2) Don’t slavishly adhere to one version of “the truth” and treat whichever profile you did as “the answer”. It’s all helpful information to use as a start point, but there is not a silver bullet that will change your life and help you to suddenly make friends, get promoted or be a successful and popular leader who gets everyone to be both excited and productive. Remember that the products arising from the 1920’s psychology have now given rise to extremely lucrative businesses. So of course you will be told that “ours is different” and it will change your business for the better, forever… Mmmm.

3) Don’t use it to make excuses based on “your type” and  evidence/pretend that you can’t do things because you are Red/Blue, Introverted etc” Best to be honest and say “ I just don’t like doing that and I’m looking for an excuse.”

BIG caveats aside, I have had some remarkable results and some stunning ROI for individuals and organisations that were based on insights (with a small “i”) that stemmed from a session understanding and talking about their own personality profile or a team’s collection of “types”.

I can only speak from my own experience. What I have found is that used sensibly, the profiles give you a shared and balanced language that enables you to receive and interpret helpful feedback from other people about what you are doing that drives them to distraction.

Having words other than “I hate you and you are useless” enables you  to have a productive discussion with someone about what they are doing that cramps your own style, rather than rant to your other half about them, wasting your precious leisure time in the process.

We use a good old mixture of the psychologies for our common sense (and quick and pretty cheap) approach to psychological profiling. Our clients tells us it works wonders. But we suspect that is as much about encouraging and giving people the physical tools to have “top right” – high challenge and high trust conversations after reading their profile than the profile itself.

A personality profile is a starter for 10. Reading it and exclaiming how remarkable it is and how well it seems to have captured your brilliance and your “allowable weaknesses” gets you about 1% of it’s potential. It’s super easy to do that bit. Therefore a lot of people do it!

The hard work (and thus the big wins) come when real people use the knowledge in the real world. Use the profiles to have really difficult conversations. Give and receive really tough feedback. Feel vulnerable and have to dig deep resilience-wise to bounce back from uncomfortable truths.

And keep those horribly difficult conversations going and going…

Not many people do that bit because having started, they suddenly become much too busy with the day job or the latest organisational call to arms which needs their immediate and full attention.

We call that avoidance “Look a bear”. But that is an entirely different story!


AQ – Adaptability Quotient and the Growth Mindset



AQ  – Adaptability Quotient is being cited as the “New EQ” – the big thing that will make the difference between excellence and extinction in the modern workplace.

In a nutshell, it’s about how well placed you are as an individual or organisation, to adapt to the rapidly changing circumstances in which we now all operate.

When I’m talking to clients I use the Blockbuster example. It would not have mattered if they had the most engaged teams, the best leaders, the best sites and the most impressive labour and GP ratios. There business would still have died because people became able to watch films for free on their telephones.

It is super easy to be exceptionally busy with all the things that have always made you successful as an individual. Or focus almost entirely on the things that are driving the profitability of your business today.

But how much time and structured thinking do you put into the things that might make your business obselete in 10 years? Or maybe more scarily, turn you from someone with a proven track record in skills that are highly valued, into someone who is the business equivalent of a Betamax expert.

It’s not new science. How adaptable we are is closely connected to things you may have read already about Growth Mindset.

However the AQ or adaptive thinking terminology has helped emphasise one of the most difficult things we overcome when we develop a genuine Growth Mindset – that we have to learn to challenge our very deeply helps beliefs on things. And that sometimes these are the very things that made us successful in the first place.

I’ve summarised what it takes to train your brain to have a higher AQ at the bottom of this article, using the acronym ADAPTS so it’s easy to remember and pass on.

So if it is such an easy concept to get your head around, why is AQ so prized? It’s because it is easy to define, but really difficult to do.

This is because our brains don’t like adaption. So those with high AQ are likely to have done some pretty difficult thinking. Adapting in business is crucial, but when the “what’s in it for me” is more important even than that – and is the difference between surving or dying, our brains are great at coming up with very rational ways to resist adaption.

I am very fond of the sad story told in a HBR book Immunity to Change. A number of heart patients were told that they were faced with almost certain death if they did not change their lifestyle habits. Only 1 in 7 were able to make the necessary changes. 6 died.

Even when it is literally a matter of life and death, the motivation to change is not enough. We still listen to our faulty wiring. Our brain  finds evidence that what we have always done is still OK and we listen to it because it means we don’t have to do something difficult or painful.

When our brain tells us “I know I have to find the time to do this a bit differently and I will definitely do it tomorrow” we can defer what we need to do, but will be difficult. And go back to focusing on what is comfortable instead.

It makes sense. Old habits die hard – especially ones that we think helped to contribute to previous success.

Take the scientific research that appears to prove irrefutably that there is a link between whether people like you and whether they rate you professionally.

In one Harvard study of over 57,000 leaders only 0.1% of who were disliked by their teams, were also perceived as being good at their job.

How hard would that be to read if you were a 50 year old Executive who has oft quoted the mantra “I’m not here to be liked, I’m here to be respected.”

Woah. Our brains just don’t like that sort of curve ball. We have a complex system of thinking that is there for good reason – to protect us from the shame of being wrong. Or the disappointment of wondering about what could have been.

So instead our brains try to keep us safe from shame and disappointment and quickly find “evidence” that justifies keeping that questionable belief intact. But that is what AQ is all about. Developing the confidence and mental agility to adapt even your most strongly held beliefs and assumptions if you find they might be wrong.

A leader who has not bothered previously about being “liked” with low AQ would probably stick with the first “rational” thought that dismisses that research out of hand and enables them to get back to the business of the day. “Yeah but that was just in America. It’s unlikely that it was in a tough environment like mine. Look at what I’ve achieved. It’s clearly tree hugging rubbish.”

It’s much, much harder to develop a personal high AQ. Where you allow yourself to feel a bit ashamed of yourself for being quite horrible at times and acknowledge you might need to adapt your thinking into something like “Well that blows my assumption out of the water that it is shows weakness to want to be liked. Wow, that’s uncomfortable. What would I have done differently if I had known this 20 years ago? OK. Let’s think. What can I do about this right now. Today”.

Given how hard genuine adaptive change is for us as individuals, why are we surprised that it is even harder – and sometimes feels impossible – in an organisation?

An organisation is simply a collection of people doing business together. If if the business environment changes, what makes us believe that those people can automatically follow suit?

Changing ways of working is difficult. I would say almost impossible. Getting people to let go of something they have found useful in the past takes time, effort and real focus. It is not something that can be achieved with a day’s training (or even a week of workshops) – no matter how good the training is or how hot the burning platform is to change something.

It is really common practise for us to work hard to set a vision, goals and values and invest a lot of time and money in encouraging maybe hundreds or thousands of people to “sing from the same hymn sheet”. But we remain surprised when people can’t remember the new lyrics, even if they agree the song has become old hat.

I’ve seen evidence where even if where we have uncovered that a business “myth” is actually propping up underperformance, teams and individuals can really want to hold onto it.

The article in HBR about AQ from 2011 resonates with me more than ever. We are learning more daily about why we find change difficult and why AQ or “adaptive quotient” may become the new EQ.

Reeves and Delmer write:

“Management paradigms die hard, especially when they have historically been the basis for success.”

The article is great. Please do read it. However if you are now too busy because you have read this instead, there are 6 key things that you can do to train you and your organisation to be more adaptive so that you can increase your AQ. Ask questions and spend time thinking about Alternatives, Disrupters, Assumptions, Plans, Threats and Speed – helpfully we have turned their recommendations into – ADAPTS.

Try these 6 things today to increase your AQ.

1) ALTERNATIVES: Insist any change proposal has several suggested alternatives as a matter of course – this encourages cognitive and organisational flexibility

2) DISRUPTERS: Ask questions that set an expectation that the leaders in your business are thinking about what the disrupters on the edges of your business are doing – not just what your competitors are up to.

3) ASSUMPTIONS: Get into the habit of thinking about and  asking questions about what you think you all “know”. Are there some firmly and widely held beliefs that you need to have the courage to challenge?

4) PLANS: Do you spend quality time and energy thinking and reflecting on plans that take your business beyond what you know? What are the megatrends? What are you under-exploiting? What can you not know?

5) THREATS: Treat threats or risks to your business with rigour. Do you have people with time and a clear responsibility for exploring areas of potential market exposure. Do you set up and incentivise  initiatives to measure future threats with the same passion as you measure yesterday’s performance?

6) SPEED: Increase your “clock-speed” – make any annual reviews lighter and consider how to transform any processes that you do on a monthly or annual basis into business as usual activity that takes minutes not hours.

I am frequently to be heard challenging my clients about separating “business fact” from “business fiction”.

We all have assumptions. We are wired to make them. But we can train our brains to stand back and check them out for what they are. We can then decide if the things that we are protecting are actually the same things that are holding us back.

To increase your AQ, remind yourself and your organisation regularly that some organisational widely held beliefs and firmly followed processes are actually based on questionable or outdated assumptions. Also remember that initially it will be normal that when you question them, your individual and collective organisation brains might be desperate to hold onto them!

Here are some questions I have found helpful to ask. I hope they stimulate some thinking for you.

What trends are emerging that mean we just won’t have customers in the same numbers in 5 years?”

“What would X do if they bought our business?”
Insert whatever name you like for X.

“Is this actually “real” or a myth we like – that it suits us to believe?”

“Just because our brains can to find “evidence” to support that view, does it mean it is actually true?”

“Did this used to be a business fact but one we need to question now things have moved on?”

What do we not want to know?”

“If we needed to overcome that risk within 6 weeks, who would we have working on it and what resources would they need to create a viable alternative in that time?”

“If we needed 3 other options, what would they be?”

“What would be ridiculous about us turning that annual review into a fortnightly one?”

I hope that helps explain what AQ is if you hear someone mention it!

More importantly, I hope it gives you a head start about how we could help you to do something about it before everyone else does!

Contact us via Teabreaktraining.com for more information and a cuppa to get you thinking. It’s our job to keep you. ahead of the curve.

Great Leadership – simple to define…really hard to do


Most leaders I speak to these days appreciate that “Just do it, because I’m the boss” doesn’t work very well. In a knowledge economy and service businesses where smart people have the option to leave, JFDI is either dead or dying.

Leaders I usually work with find a more collaborative approach quite natural. However I’m also very fond of those who are honest enough to confess they’d prefer to be completely in control of absolutely everything…but are learning to live with it! 

But what do you do when you do when the chips are down? When you need to influence others to “do it your way”, maybe because a tough, unpopular action is needed for a business to survive or thrive? 

Well, the short answer is…It’s’s not quick or easy. And I guess that is obvious – otherwise everyone would be doing it!

Science and research have some answers. But a straw poll around the kitchen table with your family or in the bar with your friends will probably tell you the same thing. 

If you ask: “If someone asked you to do something that might physically harm you or you were really frightened of, how would they need to make you feel in order for you to even consider trying it?” 

I have found that 99 times out of 100 (once you have debated “How risky?” “Is it life or death?” “But would you do it for a million pounds?” etc) that the same 2 things come up:

“I’d have to really trust them and their motives for asking me to do it,”  

“They’d need to convince me they knew what they were doing and would stay strong and calm, even if I was panicking or things went wrong”

People are people (not a quote from science but still wise words!). So if trust and convincing people you would stay strong matters where risks are personal and make your palms sweat, why should it be any different at work? 

As humans we are wired to avoid things we would rather not do and will go to great lengths to convince ourselves we don’t need to (see the blog on habits for more about why) So in order to stand even a fighting chance of landing an unpopular decision or unwelcome change, people need to trust you on 2 levels:

1) Trust you as a person – do they believe you have good intentions towards them?

2) Trust in your competence – do they believe you are strong enough to act on those intentions?

Science and research suggests that great leaders who get the brilliant results in the fastest time get a “Yes” to both questions. Really quickly. And they are successful because they then have more time to spend on the business of getting more things done. 

Researchers think that the key to this is that some of our human wiring is really old – paleolithic – so c.2-3 million years old. But that this wiring still functioning and powerfullly influences our thinking. 

For our cave dwelling ancestors, choosing the right person to be led by, might have been a matter of life and death. Quite literally. Their survival would have depended on being able to choose quickly the person who was most capable of physically protecting or providing for them. 

Those who choose well, lived and got to pass on their genes. Those who didn’t, died and didn’t get to pass on their genes. So most of us alive today have those genes and this evolved behaviour. 

So even though we don’t live in caves and are making these decisions in a high tech office or over a networking coffee, we are still beholden to that old wiring. 

And even if we are 45 and highly experienced, it is probably unrealistic to assume that 45 years of even the most impressive professional success can over-write habits that were 3 million years old in the making. 

Most of the time we make decisions about who to trust in a split second – because it’s old wiring that controls that decision. And back in the day, any procrastination meant we got eaten. 

BBC’s Horizon had a fab programme where neurologists showed how even the authenticity of our laugh affects who we trust in that split second. Our brain can sense a fake laugh. And it makes the part of the brain light up which triggers a reaction of “Don’t trust them- hide/run!”. A genuine laugh fires up the part of the brain which triggers “Oh, I’d like to be part of their group”. 

We can’t fake what we feel. And it is instant and instinctive. We want to think we make rational choices based on weighing up logical arguments, but really our subconscious brain has already chosen who we want to follow and is now looking to prove itself right about that choice to trust or not trust someone. The decision has already been made. You just don’t realise it yet.

Imagine the time saved if you could get an instant “Yes” to both the “Trust:Intent?” and “Trust:Capability?” tests? 

But this equally explains why someone who has been promoted because they are really competent can struggle to get a team aligned behind them? Or why you have a really well intentioned leader who can’t seem to stretch performance? 

It’s because you need both things to lead well. You can’t lead to your potential if you pass one test but not the other.

So when people don’t do things to your standard when you are are not there to “supervise” or can’t seem to make decisions without you being there to help, you may have to face an uncomfortable truth. Maybe their subconscious gave you a big red Britain’s Got Talent “X”  to one of those fundamental Trust Intent/Trust Capability” questions…

And because this all goes on at a subconscious level you probably didn’t notice what you did or didn’t do to get the “X”

And whilst you might get feedback around the edges, your team would probably never tell you straight. 

Imagine feeding back to someone more senior than you (who you did not trust!) that your gut instinct is not to trust either their personal intentions or their competence!…Mmm maybe not! But I bet you’ve never had that feedback either!

The news gets worse before it gets better…

Back to the research. Different experts describe these 2 key traits or dichotomies of “good intentions” and “strong capability” using different terms, but all broadly find the same thing.


Stanford psychologist Deborah Gruenfeld describes the 2 traits as Approachability AND Authority – “I will move towards you because I trust your intentions and I’m happy for you to be in authority because you know what you are doing and will be strong enough to do it”. 

Harvard’s Amy Cuddy talks about the dichotomies as “Warmth” AND “Strength”. “I warm to you because I trust your intentions”, I will follow you because you are strong and have the capability to protect me when things get tough”. 

Others who have translated this into practical advice describe “Support” AND “Challenge”. So “You support me so I trust your intentions and I expect challenge from you because it reinforces you are strong and knowledgeable”

In principle this all makes sense and separate research aligns. But this is really hard to get right in practise. This is quite simply because those 2 things are really hard to do at the same time. Hence my intentional use of capitals. In fact, let me re-phrase:

Our body and mind find it almost impossible to do both of these things at once.

Deborah Gruenfeld gives the example that that to be authoritative, you need to project your experience and your knowledge as being greater than that of your team. To some extent this leads to distancing yourself from them. Then to be approachable, you need to get closer to them and demonstrate genuine warmth and empathy – really valuing your relationships with people and hearing their perspective – even though you may know more. Difficult to do.

Amy Cuddy and the Harvard team point out too that there is a hormonal thing going on too – feeling “warm/supporting people” generally means we are secreting a hormone called oxytocin. And feeling “strong/being challenging” generally means we are secreting testosterone. 

The bad news biologically is that these 2 hormones are not very good at co-existing in the body – Some evidence suggests that releasing oxytocin cancels out some of the testosterone – and vice versa. So in effect the existence of one may neutralise the power of the other! 

So not only is it hard to be both warm and strong in practical terms, it would appear our bodies might have a biological issue with it as well! It’s a bit like being on a see saw. When one is high, the other is probably low. You can be “OK” at doing both together, but it feels impossible to have both ends of the see-saw on the up at the same time.

Leading people in tough times and getting them to do things they don’t want to do is not fast, easy and may not feel  “natural” because:

1) Being a good leader is really hard because it requires you to do 2 different and potentially contradictory things at once

2) It is not likely that you can expect yourself or other people to “get over themselves” or  “grow up” and get over these needs being met because, the needs are based on inbuilt wiring that is millions of years old 

So what can you do. That’s a long answer. It’s possible but you will probably have to do some things intentionally that don’t come easily. 

A short easy way to start though is to take a “first things first” approach. Researchers think that the 2 dichotomies have a pecking order. Trusting the person has to happen first. Simply, if people don’t warm to you, they probably will look for reasons not to find you capable. 

Saying you just don’t trust someone isn’t quite hard to justify and to define. But saying you have concerns about their experience or skills seems a more logical reason to question their decisions and not to do what they ask. 

If you don’t gain genuine trust, you don’t pass GO. Work on other people trusting you personally and your intentions towards them FIRST. 

So before you start planning your big speech where you want to be impressive and establishing your credentials, think more simply about how your team could warm to you? Are you “real” and authentic in your dealings with them? Are you “likeable”?  

Maybe you are reading this and thinking about someone you want to help to become more effective? And as you start to explain that the “soft” stuff of trust and likeability is not “soft” at all – it is the stuff of caveman survival, you can almost hear the response of “I’m not here to be liked, I’m here to be respected?”.

Perhaps quietly point them to the study done at Harvard where people were asked to rate their previous leaders across 2 scales – whether they liked them and whether they thought they were effective leaders. The study created a database of almost 52 thousand leaders. Of those 52,000, only 27 who were “disliked” were also rated as “effective”. By my maths that means only 0.05% of the people who were not liked, managed to convince people they were good at their job. 

I’m not sure people proclaiming they are “not here to be liked” and “don’t have time for that soft stuff” would actually want those kind of hard odds? Particularly when we all know that “what do you think of such and such?”comes up daily at the coffee machine or over lunch. And can make or breaks careers, progression and reputations, regardless of HR talent processes.

People who are “not there to be liked” may well not feel the need to take action if someone answers with “I don’t like them that much”. But they probably would care very much if they knew there was a clear correlation with people also saying “I actually don’t think they are very good at their job. 

This correlation comes down to the same desire for “evidence” – if we don’t like or trust someone and it is intuitive, that feels a bit wishy-washy so we will look for “evidence” that we are “right” to have that view. And surprise, surprise, we can find evidence for what we believe to be true.

You might find your personality lends you to either strength or warmth more easily than the other. That’s OK and very normal in my experience. But it’s what you do with that knowledge that counts. A later blog will deal with “tactics” to help you be more challenging or more supportive – quickly and whilst still being “you”.

But for now. Ask yourself what your intentions are towards your people? Do you genuinely care if they are happy at work? Do you really want them to be promoted and maybe take their skills with them? Would you protect them if they tried and failed? 

Would you trust you? 

Do you like the “You” that you brought to work today?  

If the answer is “No” or even “I’m not sure”, your team can probably sense it a mile off. 

And if they have sensed it, their brain will not be able to help looking for evidence that it makes perfect sense to question or delay what you have asked them do. 

It will feel absolutely the right decision to spend time covering themselves, rather than taking a leap of faith and getting on with it.

So for now, put on a genuine smile. Put your phone down. Go walk around. Spot what makes your team’s eyes light up. Find ways to like them as people. Sure, it’s time away from your massive “to do” list. But it might unlock more performance and potential than you can imagine. 

We have a “tea break” training session on high trust:high challenge that gets great feedback. If you think it could help you, give me a shout at dulcie@teabreaktraining.com

New Year? Clean Slate? Sometimes it pays to finish what you started first…


Has the New Year brought you a sense of a “fresh start”- meaning you can find some great reasons not to do something you were asked to well before Christmas…?

And as we get into January proper, can you find great evidence that your resolutions don’t need to be done every day after all…?

Are your excuses ready, as we speak, just in case anyone remembers they are still waiting for something from you? Or someone you were talking to on New Year’s Eve asks how the diet is going?

Being able to convince yourself you were right to ditch the things you were finding hard or boring is normal. It is why any personal or organisational change is really easy to talk about, but near impossible to do. Our brains are wired to find really good evidence that what we don’t want to change, is not that important after all. Our brains want to go and find something more interesting to do instead – something that fits with what we know we like and what we already believe. It’s scientific name is cognitive bias.

Most of us will have worked in a team that had “initiative-fever” at some time in our lives – a team that moves from one new idea to the next…and the next…and the next. We talk about wanting to work in a fast paced environment with lots of change. And that can be a great thing. But when organisational changes are like a series of fireworks that starts with a bang of colour but drift off  and get forgotten about, they are usually just a waste of time, money and energy.

Leading change at the start when everyone is enthusiastic is an attractive proposition. But leading slower burn, hard change is properly tough. It’s no wonder that you can find plenty of people who will be really enthusiastic about having some new objectives to get their teeth into instead of making sure the stuff from last year got done as well as it could…

I love Janet Malcom’s quote – “We go through life mishearing and mis-seeing and misunderstanding so that the stories we tell ourselves will add up.” Janet Malcolm is journalist, not a psychologist or a neuroscientist – hence why she can sum up the concept of cognitive bias in a single sentence and not a 400 page book….

We have a whole load of cognitive biases at work every day which get in the way of changing anything. I usually de-mystify them by calling them brain tricks or glitches. Here’s the major glitch in a nutshell. Our brains are fantastic at telling us what we want to hear. We find it hard to see any evidence that we are wrong. Our brains go to great lengths to not to hear truths we would rather avoid.

This is why even if we are initially up for changing something, we are pre-programmed to give it up – even if it is doing us a lot of good.

“New” things haven’t had the chance to go wrong yet. Or become boring or difficult. Having lots of enthusiam for a New Year’s resolution on the 1st Jan is easy. But the same things are hard to be excited about on the 20th. It’s not that you are a bad person with low impulse control. It is simply human nature than when a “new” thing starts to feel like hard work, our brains are brilliant at finding really great reasons to give up.

Imagine you could time-travel and see into the future. What would you do if you found out that something really time consuming, boring and difficult would make a massive difference to your business? Or that something that personally you find a slog, would turn out to be pivotal to your happiness?

You could of course still choose not to do the difficult/boring thing. But the important thing is you would have a choice. The depressing news is that unless you are aware of the existence of cognitive bias, your brain won’t make it obvious to you that you have a choice.  Instead your wiring will provide you with compelling (and usually very logical reasons) why you can discard the boring/difficult thing with no real regrets.

So everyone knows its risky not to exercise enough or to over drink/eat/smoke. But your brain can find a really good reason that having a few beers/ 2 cigarettes over lunch/1 chocolate/not exercising today, is OK.

Well maybe it will be and maybe it won’t. But I always find one example sobering (quite literally !). Two Harvard professors who have over 25 years experience in dealing with workplace change quote a study that when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don’t change their habits, only 1 in 7 patients will be able to actually change their habits (rather than just making a resolution to change them). You read that right. 6 out of 7 patients die rather than change.

This brings home hard just how difficult it is to change something that you don’t want to. Even when it is a matter of life and death, you can and will convince yourself with all sorts of logical reasons and “hard facts” that it is OK to carry on as you are.

Changing something at work is very rarely a matter of life or death. But is it realistic to tell people to change something, train them to do it and then expect it just to happen? We are surprised that even with the ultimate threat of someone losing their job that change seems elusive for some. But why should we be? We all have the same brain at work as we do at home. When 6 out of 7 heart patients die rather than change lifestyle habits, why would it surprise us if 6 out of 7 people found a good reason at work to avoid something they didn’t want to do?

Knowing about cognitive biases and re-framing them as “tricks” or “brain-glitches” can give you a bit more power to think beyond natural limitations when it comes to change. Thinking about why you are thinking what you are thinking – and challenging others to do the same – gives you clarity and choice. And helps with the determination to see it through.

So before you wipe your 2016 slate clean and start afresh, just make sure that some of the common cognitive biases aren’t getting in your way of making 2017 your best yet.

Cognitive Dissonance – “Well that [action from 2016] wasn’t ever going to fix the problem because……”

Stop. You will be able to find 100’s of reasons that you were right…even if you are dead wrong…This is because your brain makes sense of complexity by ignoring things that don’t fit with what you already believe to be true. It’s why so few people change their political beliefs over time. Or why when you think someone is a really great performer, they have to virtually commit murder for you to notice their performance is declining…or vice versa.

Status Quo Bias – “On reflection, it wasn’t really that broken so I think we should leave it alone after all…”

Really? When you have slept a few times since the “burning platform” caught fire it can be really tempting to leave things alone. Is the status quo really the best you can do? Or is your brain not wanting to do something that it knows is going to be difficult…

Current Moment Bias – “I’ll just get January out of the way and then I’ll get on with that…”

Hang on. Didn’t you say that with the word “Christmas” in the place of “January” just a few weeks ago? Your brains loves good intentions…but is also very good at convincing you that you don’t need to do it “today“. When you find yourself saying that you will do something tomorrow, beware. Your brain knows that tomorrow never comes…

Post Rationalisation – “It was fine to not have got round to that because…I did x, y and z instead…No one will notice…It will take ages…I was really, really too busy…”

Be blunt with yourself.  And get some feedback from someone who will be blunt with you too. If it was really, really fine then OK. Don’t waste your time and bin it. But beware your brain is fantastic at making a decision feel OK after you have made it. Challenge yourself. Was it OK? Or has your brain invented reasons that it is OK, when in retrospect,  it would be good to just crack on and get it done.

Bandwagon Effect – “Everyone else didn’t do it so it must be the right thing to ignore it and move on…”

Challenge yourself. Your brain is really attracted to being in a “tribe”, to belonging. This means that we often fall in line with other people that we like and admire. We might want to rebel, but usually we want other people to join our “new tribe” when we do. What evidence can you find that you could all be wrong?

Concluding with New Year’s resolutions, I’m wondering if there are actually 2 bandwagon’s going on – The “Lose 2 stone/Dry January/Do an triathlon” wagon and the loudly expressed “You’ve got to be joking that’s a complete waste of time” wagon.

Maybe that is why, in the face of such enthusiasm on both sides, it has been really hard to stay on my own quiet, slow moving wagon. My wagon was the same for the whole of last year. And the year before. And come to think of it the 4 years before that…Maybe that’s why I have wanted to jump off my wagon this year because it has felt a bit dull to “still” be doing “just” 3 days off wine, 3 short sharp HITs of exercise and writing just something every week, (even if it’s just a song).

I’m going to console myself that I feel great and my friends who are blunt and honest say that I look good on my boring, hard work, one-man wagon…and you are reading something I actually got around to writing, rather than talked a lot about!

So simply being aware that these biases exist and are not a sign of a weak intellect can be enough to make sure that you don’t let the “tricks” limit your thinking or allow you to convince yourself it is OK to have not done something that would have delivered you a great result…

At Tea Break Training we love running our session on cognitive bias. We call it “Our Brains Aren’t Perfect”. Participants tell us it’s fun and it works and takes you off the job for no more than 2 hours !

Send us a quick note at hello@teabreaktraining.com and see if we can help you and your teams to think smarter. Go on. Do it now… before your brain convinces you to do it tomorrow instead!

PS You might feel that some of the cognitive biases don’t apply to you. You might be right. But if you read the list and thought you were immune to all of them, you might want to wonder why…?!

How to ask for a payrise… Supporting the BBC’s 100 Women season


There are 3 things it helps to think about if you really want to secure a pay rise. Only a third of women feel confident to ask according to recent research by the BBC as part of its 100 Women season. Whilst few people – men or women – would actively look forward to a conversation about money, there are things you can do to make it feel more do-able. Thinking carefully about these 3 things in advance should help you feel more prepared and hopefully to find the courage to give it a go. 

So, before you knock on that door, think…

1) What facts will help ? – some good evidence and background information will increase your chances of success

2) Who you are asking and what do you know about them? – this will help you to prepare how to ask them in particular

3) What you are like under pressure? – you can then plan how not to be your own worst enemy !

So firstly – what facts will help. 

Prepare and take along evidence of some great results or specific responsibilities that illustrate that you are worth more. To get a payrise you are likely to need to show that you are going above and beyond whaat is expected of you – Remember to show what you will do in the future as well as what you have done in the past.  

Find out what your job is worth – look at similar jobs both inside and outside your company so that you can be clear about whether you are actually being underpaid at the moment and what a reasonable salary is for the work you do.

And think about the best time to ask – How your Company is performing and how the pay rise process works are important to know. It may be that there is simply a better time of year to have the conversation – maybe when budgets are being set or when cash flow is not an issue.

So on to the second piece of thinking – How to ask the person you are asking. 

You are probably asking someone you know so think about them personally… When are they personally at their most receptive? – is there a good day of the week or a time of the day to avoid? Certainly don’t catch them off guard by asking them in passing or when they are preparing for an important meeting themselves.

Think about what you know about their working preferences. Would it be better to ask them for a formal meeting in the office or ask to speak to them informally first? Do they like making decisions in the moment? If not, think about giving them advance notice of what you want to talk about. Some people like to reflect and so it might be better to meet and then give them a summary in writing so they can think about it?

Think about what they value in employees in particular and draw their attention to when you have done those things. Also plan what not to say – avoid anything that hints at complaining, arguing or over-sharing such as “My pay is not fair because…or I’m desperate for more money right now….” 

Finally think about your own responses in difficult conversations so that you can plan not to be your own worst enemy. 

Neuroscientists think that these highly charged situations at work make our bodies react in the same way that our ancestors did when they experienced a physical theat – so having a payrise conversation might mean your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. When our heart is racing our our palms are sweating during these highly charged situations the neuroscientists have proved that up to 80% of the blood and oxygen that is normally helping the part of the brain that deals with rational thinking and problem solving is diverted to your heart and your extremities – so just at the point where you need your wits about you and need to be able to think clearly, your rational brain is working at about 20% of its usual capacity….great ! So what can you do ?

Well, getting angry or upset won’t do you any favours, whereas staying calm and considered will. So if you notice that you are becoming emotional, breathe and remember that you may not be able to respond in a level headed way, so try not to start talking until you have really taken a moment to think about what you are saying.

Practise out-loud – saying slowly and calmly the key points you want to make – and then practise leaving it there and staying silent! We can tend to talk too much when we get nervous. It’s often better to say what you have to say and then shut up so that you can really listen to the answer you are given.

And if you get a no, well that’s life. Rehearsing for this and preparing a question like “How would I make this a yes in 3 months time ?” is certainly better for your career prospects than threatening to resign ! 

So…Think about the facts. Think about how to ask the person you are asking. And think about how to prepare yourself. 

Then my ultimate tip is – just do it ! Asking for a pay rise is a real “who dares wins” situation. Because it is difficult to do, your brain will try hard to find you all sorts of reasons not to experience the discomfort of that conversation. So look beyond your natural resistance.

Ask yourself honestly, what do you really have to lose by respectfully asking your boss to review some evidence that suggests you are worth more?

You might get a “no” … but in the process you may well get some feedback that will help you understand what you need to do more of to get a yes in the future. 

And given practise makes perfect, asking for a pay rise once, will make it easier to ask next time! 

There’s more information about how I can help you personally with these challenging conversations at profitablyengaged.com and teabreaktraining.com. Or view my video clip on the BBC website at the link at:


Do you have Imposter Syndrome…?


Ever have that sinking feeling that today is going to be the day when you finally get caught out ? The day when the mistakes, white lies and near misses of your past are finally going to catch up with you? And everything you have, will slowly start to unravel as you are revealed as a fraud?

If so then read on…you are not alone, research has suggested that over 70% of us feel this way sometimes. Maybe a bit of science might calm your heart-rate?

The technical term given to it in 1978 by 2 American psychologists is “imposter syndrome”. It is so called because you feel yourself to be an “imposter” somehow living a life that you do not rightly deserve. That you don’t really have the skills and expertise at the level your position or salary seems to merit.

You may remember a Talking Heads song with the lines “You may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile and you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself, Well, how did I get here ?..”

In our house we call Imposter Syndrome “running from the blagging police” – we laugh over a beer about an old fashioned bobby, running red faced towards us and simultaneously blowing a whistle. When he finally catches up, he puts a friendly but firm hand on our shoulder and says “Come on mate. Times up. You’ve had a good run at it but it is time to admit you don’t really know what you are doing and hand back the car/house/wife.”

I have had clients who have told me that their life has changed quite literally overnight when they realised this was “real” thing. When I told them that research suggested this was the number 1 coaching topic for Executives you could almost hear their sigh of relief. I don’t like to refer to it as a “syndrome” anymore. It makes it sound like an illness or something quite rare. Now that we know it is part of the human experience for most people, I talk about it as Imposter Thinking – Here are the tips that I share with my clients so that they can not let Imposter Thinking get in their way. I hope they help you too.

Accept Imposter Thinking is a normal part of being successful. 

Success usually relies on taking a few risks. Without taking some risks we can’t really make any mistakes. And we get our best learning from getting things a bit wrong and trying again. So making mistakes, rescuing some near misses and flying by the seat of your pants sometimes are likely to be part of the reason you are successful…Not evidence of the opposite!

Accept Imposter Thinking as an inevitable consequence of our brains not being wired to hear other people’s thoughts

We can only judge other people by what we see on the outside. By their results and outputs. What they say and do. We judge ourselves from the inside and judge ourselves based on our intentions. We process thousands of thoughts every minute. Thus we know intimately about every single time we had a near miss, or something we achieved was frankly down to a good dose of luck or chance. There are millions of pieces of evidence. But there are millions of pieces of evidence in everyone else’s mind too. It’s just that we can’t know about them. We simply don’t and can’t see into the minds of other people like we do our own.

Do the Maths – there are worse things to be than an Imposter…

Bertrand Russell said “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. Think about it. You have probably worked with enough people to have seen a few idiots and some wild overconfidence at first hand. Given that research suggests that 70% of people suffer from Imposter syndrome at some point and clinicians estimate that around 4% of the population are sociopaths and 1% are psychopaths….Yeah…Do the Maths. I’m blunt with my clients sometimes. “Don’t worry – it’s just evidence that you aren’t stupid or a psychopath”

If you feel like an Imposter sometimes, you are in good company

Many other, extremely successful people feel this way too. Take Sheryl Sandberg who says “There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am”. Howard Schulz describes how the experience doesn’t diminish if you get more senior. He said of the CEO’s that he knows that “very few people whether you have been in the job before or not, get into the seat and believe, today, that they are qualified”. It’s not restricted to business. Maya Angelou a hugely gifted writer who has won Tony’s, Grammy’s and been shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize wrote “I have written 11 books but each time I think “uh-oh” they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out”. There have been countless articles written on this topic – the Harvard Business Review, the BBC, The Guardian, The Times. It’s really not just you…

There are some things that have really helped me and my clients. They might help you too…

When it happens, welcome it. It is simply evidence that despite your success, you haven’t got too big for your boots and your brain still wants to learn more.

Accept you don’t have to achieve perfection to deserve what you have. No one is perfect or the finished article. And if you thought you were perfect…well…revert back to doing the Maths!

Realise that you can reduce the risks. You can set your bar lower so it will happen less often. But you will also be pretty mediocre by your own standards.

Don’t expect it to get any better – another promotion or more success won’t make this go away. If anything, you will just get more “evidence” that you have been over-promoted!

Actively work with smart, honest people who have different strengths to you. Make it safe for them to give you feedback. You can stop worrying you will miss something because they’ll let you know.

You have a choice about how much power to let it have. Decide not to give it head-space and energy that could be better spent reflecting on the facts that underpin your success and learning from mistakes.

Focus on what you did do when something went well. Not what you didn’t do. You don’t have to have done everything perfectly for the end result to be good enough. Remember the 80:20 rule.

Help your self and others by naming what it is. Dare to be vulnerable when your instincts are telling you to keep your cards close to your chest. It made it less insidious and easier to laugh about it.

Use the “worried” feeling that you don’t know enough to your advantage. Remember you are seeing things with fresh eyes. Research shows that many scientific breakthroughs come from non-experts daring to ask a “stupid question”

If it pops up, congratulate yourself that it is probably evidence you are conscientious, reflective, honest and modest. Would you really want to NOT feel it and be the opposite of those ?

For more information on coaching to help with Imposter Thinking get in touch at dulcie@profitablyengaged.com or to train teams on how to overcome it, ask us for help at hello@teabreaktraining.com

Why doesn’t training stick ?


After years in senior HR roles and managing large teams of people, I was frustrated when we spent time and money on training that didn’t seem to impact on the day job. I would have understood if the training wasn’t very good ! But often this was brilliant training that was delivered by great people, using sound business models and robust research. More often than not, “happy sheets” would provide feedback that the training was great. More often than not almost all the delegates would say that they would definitely use the skills back in the workplace.

So I wanted to do know more about why people who were keen to use the skills back in the workplace, didn’t end up doing so. And what I could do about it.

Cue – lots of research, conversations with training professionals and good old fashioned thinking later…There is one element of the training that I now know from experience can make all the difference. (Clue…it is not the quality of your slides…)

The interest and the involvement of the line manager – before and after the training – makes a significant and measurable difference as to whether training makes a difference to the business. 

It sounds so simple and so obvious. But come on…Let’s be honest. When I was a busy line manager, could I, hand on heart, say that I made proper time to have a powerful conversation with everyone who worked with me, in order make the training investment I had made really count? 

No I can’t. And not for bad reasons. 

What were my excuses…Err…The main one was that I trusted them to get on with it by themselves. They were capable people. I was sure they would ask if they wanted help…Right?

Well no. Not according to some of the best people I have spoken to who have 100s of years of experience between them. And not according to some of the latest research about what makes us work at work.

Knowledge moving from a classroom to the front line requires the line manager to proactively do something. Trusting people to get on with it sounds like empowerment, but it often doesn’t lead to a new behaviour or a new idea making it into the day to day work life of your teams. 

Put simply, the science says your teams will mainly focus their minds on what you talk about and what you “reward” with your attention. 

If you don’t talk to them about what they have just learned and help them to think how they want to use it, 8 weeks later, more than 80% of it will be forgotten. 

“I’d love to do that but I just don’t have the time…” Is a common response I get when I challenge a line manager to do this well. The great news is that I have found a few simple ways to do this that really work. 

People who have used it tell me it’s fast and actually quite rewarding.

We use the GROW model as a tool. It’s simple, it works and most people know it. Perhaps we could have invented new acronym, but why bother when this works just great ? We keep it simple.

If you are a line manager and one of your team is going on a training course, give them 4 minutes of your undivided attention and ask them a good “G” question and a good “R” question. 

When they get back to work, give then another 4 minutes of your undivided attention and ask them a good “O” and a good “W” question. 

Of course, ask more than 1 question if you like. Give them 7 minutes of your undivided attention by all means! However, our research suggests just 2 questions asked before one of your team attends training has a remarkable effect. Promise. 

If your mind is blank (or one of your team is meeting you in 2 minutes and you can’t think of a great question…!), then give these a try. You could always build on them to make them more personal. 

Pre Training               

G (GOAL) Questions:

What are you hoping to get from the training ?

How are you going to measure if attending this training was a success for you (and/or the Company)

What would you love to be saying to me if I called you in the car on the way home after the training?

R (REALITY) Questions:

What is stopping you being really good at this already ? (You may want to probe if this is down to “Skill” or “Will” if you have the time)

What will stop you making the most of this opportunity to learn or practise your skills ?

Are you really up for this? What could change that?
Post Training (ideally within 24 hours but 78 hours max)

O (OPTIONS) Questions:

What things do you want to do differently as a result of the learning ?

What could you start doing differently today?

What could you do and what will you do ? What’s the difference ?

W (WHAT NEXT) Questions:

How will we measure how successful you have been ?

What can I do to help ?

What do you want me to do if you don’t deliver on your good intentions ?

Give it a go. Let us know if it works or how you improve upon it. 
And contact us at hello@teabreaktraining.com to find out more about the full Tea Break Training model. We’d love to include your successes in our research…

Is coaching and mentoring more about great questions or great listening ?


When I am training new coaches and providing feedback, one thing they tell often confide is “Yeah, I know I’d stopped listening properly…it was because I was thinking about the right question to ask next.”
So how can you learn to pose the right question in the right way? Without thinking too much about thinking about the question…because that inhibits your ability to listen well?!
I can’t say I have found all the answers, but I have got some experience and been given some great feedback that has helped me. Before I start with the specifics, a great piece of overarching feedback I once received was “None of us are ever the finished article, Dulcie, so let it be OK you are not perfect every time”. Thinking of this helps me to reflect on my coaching in a positive way – and not give myself too hard a time when I find I could still could do better, despite over 10 years of coaching!
First, the old adage that we have 1 mouth and 2 ears…It’s probably more relevant when coaching than at other points in your management day. Sometimes the old ones are the best. Sometimes if I find that I am asking too many questions and taking up too much of the air time, this will pop into my head. And that is enough to help me to re-focus on the coachee and less on me. Because frankly if I am spending too much of the coachees time thinking about my questions, then my ego is getting in the way of my ability to help. Just trust that if you are wondering whether to listen or speak, stay schtum…Silence is your friend as a coach. Use it.
Second, have a few “saviours” up your sleeve. Questions to get you out of a lack of listening hole !! It can be relatively easy to stop yourself spending time in unproductive thoughts about the quality of your next question. But what then. You stop yourself. You realise you have not been listening as well as you could. You zone back in. Shit! You have lost the thread of what the coachee is saying. Don’t panic. It happens. It happens less with practise. But for now, try a saviour. They are questions that tend to help coachees at any point. So it’s not cheating. Just you finding a solution that works to being human…
“I’m curious about what that means for you?”
“What do you think might be going on under the surface for you?”
“What are you wondering right now?”
Or if all else fails (and anyone who has been in coaching training with me will now be envisaging John Travolta…)
“Tell me more”
Thirdly, Know that this does come with practise. So clock up the hours, but just as importantly, reflect afterwards. Notice when you were focusing more on you and your brilliant question to come, than on them. Noticing and being curious about why that is for yourself will get you there.
A final thought. Give yourself permission to not ask questions right now. Another stunning piece of feedback I was given was “It is never too late to ask a great question Dulcie…but it can be too early.” This helps me park a thought that I am excited to share! That way, if it is too early for the coachee or my instincts are wrong – no harm done. If it’s not – great. It will still be relevant later on. I tend to just jot a key word down on my notes so I don’t forget it and then straight back with my full attention and listening.
I had a great result with this technique recently. I asked my client to think about the question I had “saved” as homework between our sessions. It gave us some real breakthrough thinking. But I suspect, had I asked it in the moment it would not have had that power…
It’s never too late to ask a great question and your mind might be desperate to refine it and make it brilliant. But if in doubt…listen for a bit longer first.

Mentoring and Coaching – What’s the Difference ?


The short answer is probably not that much ! The best mentors I have worked with have never forgotten to connect me with what I might know, before letting me know what they know.

When we are mentoring and we are asked a question,  it is easy to jump straight into advice mode. But a pause can be powerful.

One of the questions I have trained myself to ask on a daily basis, when someone calls me for some advice is…”If I answer this question with an opinion or some advice first, will I steal an opportunity from this person to learn something?”

Given that my brain loves to be helpful and longs to dole out advice and some words of wisdom, I buy myself and who ever I am talking to a little time by asking something like”What have been your thoughts so far ?”, before I wade on in there!

I am not saying don’t give advice. There is nothing more frustrating than asking someone who has supposedly been there and done for advice and wanting a “Yes, that’s a good idea” or a “I’d avoid that in your shoes because…” because you are genuinely unsure. And then leaving the room non the wiser (Is it only me in those scenarios that thinks the mentor might be scared of saying “I don’t know because when I did it, I was winging it all the way ?!)

But beware of feeling that mentoring means you have to have all the answers to every question you may ever be asked. I have been fortunate enough to be mentored by some of the UK’s best business brains. One who stood out and helped me so much was a board director of a FTSE 100 company who said on more than one occasion “Dulcie, I honestly don’t have a clue. We can talk about it together but it’s pretty complex and I suspect your instincts will be just as good as mine here.” Rather than a cop out, it felt like such a weight off that someone so important and experienced didn’t know either! Hurrah, it wasn’t me being too inexperienced or stupid to have sorted it out already. Sometimes there is no perfect answer or silver bullet. And when that happens, someone you trust reassuring you that you are going to have to take a risk without knowing the right answer and that will be good enough, is pretty liberating.

My advice for mentors is to learn to listen and to coach first. When I do mentoring training, I always train coaching principles first. Advice is fine. But make sure it is needed because someone is low on skill or experience, not because they think that you, (as the all seeing, all hailed Great Mentor) has all the best answers !

Don’t buy into the fact that they might be thinking that because you did it before them, you must have done it best. Use your experience to add to their thinking, not to stop their thinking in its tracks.

I spoke to a contact I have known for over 25 years about why a mentoring partnership wasn’t working. My contact could not understand why the mentee was quiet during their meetings and hadn’t asked him lots of questions in order to get his advice and use his years of experience.

My contact was about to call it quits because he thought the mentee didn’t really want mentoring and it was wasting both their time. I knew that my contact was a coach as well as a mentor to different people in the organisation he worked in. I asked him how different the mentoring conversation had been to his last coaching conversation. “Well massively, obviously” was his response. We had a chat about what might happen if he applied his coaching approach to the mentoring situation. We talked about him preparing less for a conversation where he would be asked questions and give answers based on his experience and instead preparing for a conversation where he would turn up with an open mind and enquiry led approach and ask questions of his mentee – without an expectation of what he would talk about in return. He decided he would do this for to the next mentoring conversation he had the following week, before calling it quits.

I probably don’t need to let you know that they now have a very successful mentoring partnership based on genuine trust, rapport and challenge?!

They have also found that they have fallen very easily into “reverse mentoring” at points. The younger mentee giving advice or asking challenging questions from his perspective as a newcomer to the business and someone from a different generation.

Here are a few of my favourite mentoring questions. Please feel free to get in touch so I can add your questions or experience of mentoring to our comments and we can all use them…

What have you done in a different part of your life that felt similar ? Could we think about that to give us some ideas?

I’m really happy to share some of my thoughts, but I am really curious to know what your instincts are telling you first?

We might find that subconsciously you know more about this than you think you do. Could you trust me enough to share your gut feel with me?

I’d love to know if we threw out any mentoring rule book, what you would really love to get from our spending time together ?

I hope that helps. Please do get in touch at Dulcie@profitablyengaged.com for queries about mentoring/coaching or anything in between!