I Really Hate the Sloppy Sell!!

I think that I’m a good customer, I’m polite, happy to pay for quality. Like most of us I don’t like a hard sell but I think the sloppy sell is worse!

For me a “sloppy sell” is where people make it really difficult for you to buy from them – I, the customer, is eager to go but they, the retailer, is just mucking about, dithering, mithering and just generally getting in the way!

Example 1. I live in Shoreham, nice little seaside town with a smallish high street. Now I’m really keen for local business to do well for loads of reasons. When a local bloke opens a bike sales and repair shop I’m delighted. I cycle everywhere and frankly am dangerous near any tools and therefore pleased to give the work to other people. When this chap opened his shop he did some work on my brakes. It was OK, he whinged on a bit but the price was good – maybe too good. Two weeks ago I popped in and ask if he could mend my bottom bracket (the bit that turns when you push the pedals around). He did lots of that teeth sucking and head shaking. He told me the various options of the way forward, any of which seemed fine to me, all delivered by him as if he was contemplating a nasty flesh wound.

He opened his diary, apparantly looking in despair at his lengthy order book..”mmming” and “dear me-ing”. Eventually I suggested that he give me a ring to book a time – who was I kidding – a week went by with no call. I was passing the shop last Friday and as I’m obviously a masochist with a taste for pain I popped in. The same story ensued, I won’t bore you with it but it culminated with me loudly declaring “OK I’ll take it somewhere else!” Things took an even more comedic turn when our friends wife, no doubt hearing the exchange, joined us. Obviously realising what a plonker our friend was (perhaps reconsidering her wedding vows) set about trying to get me and my booked in. His litany of how hard this was going to be was hilarious – didn’t have the right componant, would have to take it apart (fancy!), wasn’t sure when he could fit it in, had a bone in his leg etc etc……

Example 2.Had a  lovely time on Saturday – Brighton festival, went for lunch at a cafe my daughter Morgan is working at. Downstairs in the cafe there is a gallery space where two local artist were displaying and selling their work. Morgan told me that she thought I’d really like one of the artists work. After my goats cheese sarnie (scrummy) we popped down for a look.

Morgan was right. The prints were very striking and I really took to one in particular. I had a bit of birthday money languishing, unspent in my bank account. After deciding that I would get a un-framed one I approached the young woman in the corner reading a book, looking a bit like she was there in some official capacity or other. I asked if I could buy the print and how would she like me to pay. Apologising that she could only take cash and not cards or cheques she went back to her paperback (obviously a very good read).

The print was £50, as a family we went through our pockets managing to pull together £47.27.  Our friend with the book was philosophical – well I think so, it was hard to tell. She smiled softly and went back to her book (I must get myself a copy of that book!). Left with absolutely no choice than not buying. I sadly put the print back on the rack and left.

I know some of you will have your heads in your hands at this point. How miserable is this experience??!! Is there not a recession on!

I am a good customer and when I get a good service I tell everyone. Unfortunately I’m quite malicious when the opposite is true…Seller Beware!!

Some thoughts on Harrassment at Work

The dangers of being involved in a damaging court case are obvious, the day-to-day impact of un-welcome comments and remarks causing conflict and strained relationships less so. Research* indicates that conflict between colleagues lost UK businesses 370 million working days in 2007 at the cost of over £24 billion. This requires us all to act early.

Wikipedia describes banter as “non-serious conversation, usually between friends, which may rely on humour or in-jokes at the expense of those taking part”. We all like to have fun at work, however business owners and managers need to be aware of what is going on between their staff and take a lead to ensure that communication between co-workers does not cause damage to the business.

What can we do promote healthy workplace relationships?

  • Daniel Goleman** encourages us to be emotionally aware – if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. It’s time to find out more
  • Ascribe to the highest standards of personal behaviour. As leaders we give off signals about what is acceptable and what isn’t.
  • Provide a model for people to manage conflict – Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication is excellent and can be easily adapted to the UK workplace.
  • Create a culture of appreciation. Get people talking about what they like and value, recognise people’s efforts at every opportunity – introduce a “good colleague” award.
  • ACAS recommend introducing an “Organisational Statement of Standards”*** and make this part of everything the company does, including guiding the behaviour of the top team


* “Fight, Flight or Face It? Celebrating the effective management of conflict at work” Robert McHenry, 2008

** “Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ” Daniel Goleman, 1996

*** “Bullying and Harassment at Work” ACAS, 2009

Think it’s tough when people fall out at work? What about having to smooth things over with the Taliban.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Steele has for some time placed himself in the middle of a ding-dong which, let’s face it, would have most of us running for the hills. Since 9/11 Mr Steele has reported from Iraq and Afghanistan – the particular hills he hangs out in, are not places of asylum..

This week, asking the question “Is it time to talk to the Taliban?”. Mr Steele describes a significant sea change in the approach of many in the know towards an acceptance of the need to talk to, perhaps share power with, the much-feared Taliban. One of those he interviews pragmatically states that “Every war has to end with talks and negotiations”, thereby implying, why not start now?

Such unlikely turnarounds are not without precedent – South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and power sharing in Northern Ireland spring to mind of course. On the anniversary of the Brighton Grand Hotel bomb I was fortunate enough to be present at the first public meeting of Jo Berry and former IRA man, Pat McGee, who had murdered her father. The meeting was set up by Jo Berry as part of the process of forgiveness and healing which she sought.

On reading the piece I was immediately struck by the emergence of information which supported a slightly different view of the Taliban. In Solution Focus work we refer to these as “exceptions”. The victims of the Taliban had understandably labelled them as brutal murderous and medieval in their attitudes to women, whilst what was emerging were stories of women’s education supported and the fact that many women felt a degree of safety under Taliban rule. The pragmatic wish is to find peace, like many who have bridged such a divide in the past, peacemakers will need to hold their noses and work hard to build a new future which does not focus on, whilst at the same time fully respects and acknowledges, the past.

In doing so such “exception” helps to bring about a different approach – our enemies cannot “always” be brutal if they are sometimes are “helpful” or “merciful”. This is not a fluffy line of thought. It is entirely pragmatic – if the aim is harmony it’s going to take some work. Entrenched positions and the demonization of others are critical in war, it’s not easy to kill people who have the potential to be our friends.

Contrast this approach to that of the US. Their strategy is to bomb extensively, “shock and awe” if you like, hoping to weaken the Taliban into surrender. In doing do so they are likely to cause further resentment and hatred, spreading around the world to those who connect with radical Islam and possess and ambivalence to the US and it’s friends – pretty dangerous.

How does this relate to the workplace? Well when we find ourselves thinking that Tom never empties the dishwasher, Eileen is always rude, Rudi never gets work in on time – we may like to think about exceptions to these beliefs, not to excuse performance problems but to provide a more even platform for discussion.

Many of you will know the words of Jelaluddin Rumi

“Out there beyond the ideas of right doing and wrong doing there is a field – I will meet you there”

Building Trust in Businesses is Essential to Maintain the Recovery – OK But how do you do that?

Suzanne Bates at Bates Communications has written an informative article about trust as the number one crucial issue to maintain business coming out of recession. Bates Communication has surveyed 148 organisations and the acknowledgement of trust shortfall is startling. This view is supported by other work found in the Midyear Edelman Trust Barometer.

Suzanne clearly identifies the need for communication, reassurance and building trustworthiness in leaders. She also talks about trust in relation to customers, but as I know next to nothing about that I’m going to confine my comments to employee trust. I’d like to build on Suzanne’s by thinking about the question – “Building Trust in Businesses is Essential to Maintain the Recovery – OK But how do you do that?”

Communication is often cited as being important for leaders, particularly at difficult times with honesty and transparency being key qualities. However a quick reflection on businesses-that-we-have-known that have been in difficulty

  • have managers been able to tell staff that the ship is in trouble?
  • if redundancies are unavoidable, can leaders talk about openly as soon as it is mooted?
  • if a takeover is on the cards, is the receptionist likely to hear only the day after the CEO?
  • does the board want to tell the middle manager as soon as they know that things are falling apart?

The answer strikes me as “no” – and even those staff most affected would agree that leaders need to do a bit of thinking before passing on their worries to staff. Everyone concerned would want to know that leaders were

  • just doing a bit of thinking, taking stock, checking out each other’s perspectives
  • conducting some sort of risk assessment, how bad are things? What are the trends
  • considering what could be done immediately which may avert the worst whilst maintaining a healthy businessIf things are really bad enough and a timely decision made to tell staff, for their benefit and that of the business
  • a plan to talk to staff, with relevant people present, maybe and groups and one to one, to include a clear and realistic assessment of the likely future
  • time to allow information to sink in a bit
  • managers available to ask questions, share worries (it’s all too easy to hide behind the door when things are tricky and there’s grief flying around…)
  • chance to air and hear ideas from staff, about possible ways forward
  • sharing a plan for future communication, including levels of certainty

 It’s also important that leaders understand that while they take responsibility for communication – the definition of its success is entirely in the hands of the staff. In the middle of a restructure in one organisation I was working with, staff complained that no senior managers had visited a particular site. I was facilitating a meeting where these managers were throwing open their diaries to show that they had indeed been there! Tough banana – if people feel that you haven’t been there, you haven’t.

Top Executives to take control of the Trust Issue – that’s great but let’s remember here that people stay in jobs, and carry on working hard in difficult times because of their colleagues. The old adage is that employees leave managers but stay for colleagues. Building trust between colleagues is easier (because much if it is already there and they see each other a lot) and arguable more valuable than managers trying and perhaps failing to engender trust, particularly when they may have to say something different next week in response to some understandable business need.

Reassurance – I don’t know but on the eve of a UK election I wouldn’t want to reassure anyone about anything. The future is uncertain and probably pretty bleak. It may be more useful for leaders to reassure their staff about their role – realistically. To kick ass, to close everything down if the business is unsustainable but also to support and listen to stuff, as sharing a much as reasonable for the benefit of employees and the business

Communicating Strategy – tbh I don’t think that people understand strategy. I don’t. Unless it is translated effectively in a way that I understand and makes a difference to me and mine it just looks like something in a posh document. Leaders need to be able to see things for a range of perspectives and humbly accept that this well thought through strategy has little reference to people at the coal face – who (thank god) will understand working hard together to dig coal.

A long post people and I’m sorry. I will post some ideas about how these touch conversations can take place between leaders and employees – need a glass of wine now, even though I – ahem – don’t drink during the week.

: – )  Phil

Would you like to be able to promote discussion in such a way as to promote the best possible outcome?

I am very excited as I am planning some open training courses in which I’ll be sharing what I know about Solution Focused Facilitation. These techniques have enabled me to help groups of people in organisations to work towards what they want, improve relationships and manage conflict – often in the most tricky of situations.

More details will follow in due course but just to let you know I think that the following people would really benefit. I’m also going to be doing this for a good rate as I know that things are difficult financially (and may get worse….) 

Who would benefit from the training and how?

  • Trainers – enhancing the facilitation elements of their courses  
  • Facilitators – adding to their approach, building their toolkit  
  • Managers – building better ways of running meetings with their teams  
  • Consultants – encouraging people to talk in constructive ways and take action  
  • Lecturers – engaging your students in new material  
  • Researchers – getting people to share information willingly  
  • Project Managers – promoting buy-in from project teams and stakeholders  
  • Community Leaders – structuring appreciative conversations with local people  
  • Conference chairs – designing exercises to get delegates responding  
  • Youth Leaders – constructing an atmosphere of appreciation and ownership
  • Mediators – enabling conversations in the most difficult of circumstances
  • Teachers – creating the conditions for young people to contribute to their own learning
  • Sports and Business Coaches – getting everyone involved in reviewing performance and planning development
  • Others with experience in Solution Focus – building on existing skills and make the leap into facilitating groups


If you’d like to know more – please get in contact. There may be some opportunities for those with some Solution Focus experience to act as assistants – this will be pro-bono but I’ll see to it that you benefit ten-fold developmentally.

I can’t wait – busting to get started!

: – )  Phil

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