Learning From This Experience

Now in our final week we turn to bringing the learning together. I am inspired in writing this by an experience where I commissioned a highly successful and inspiring two-day course for a group of staff in a public sector organisation. The course was so well received that the participants leapt to their feet at the end of the second day and spontaneously applauded the presenter. Basking in his reflective glow, having been responsible for bringing him along, I turned to the person next to me who smiled back at me. Whilst continuing to applaud, she said…..

“That was absolutely brilliant! But it won’t work around here..”

And you know what? She was right. The training course, for all it’s useful skills and techniques, made no discernible difference to how people behaved. They just carried on doing what they had been doing anyway.

So What’s It All About?

I do hope that you have enjoyed this course. I do hope that you have found some of the ideas useful, inspiring even! I hope that you have found my style attractive, and – given that one purpose of doing this was to advertise my wares – I hope that you’ll consider me for work in your organisation in the future! But no, that’s not what it is all about.

What it’s all about is change. I could dress that up and say it’s about “development”, but actually what I really mean is change. To stop doing some of things you were doing. To stop some things that you were thinking even. To do something different. To change how we are with other people, when we have had a lifetime of doing something differently. That’s hard.

Change, Self Image and the Emotions

Everywhere I go I seem to see people bumping into each other, having negative unhappy experiences of other human beings. My lovely neighbours falling out about a planned house extension, never built, but the tension remains. Football fans returning from a promotion celebration jostling each other, mis-reading cues, metaphorically and literally treading on each others toes. Road rage everywhere! It’s heartbreaking!

In many ways, we use other people as mirror images of ourselves. What we see in their faces, we feel in our hearts. The imagined anger, resentment, disdain we divine in another’s countenance is felt as a wounding attack on who we are. No wonder it’s so painful!

Learning to have better difficult conversations is more than just learning some new skills. It’s about making some more fundamental changes in our view of ourselves. Bringing a more kindly, confident and more open approach to the world, and to ourselves.

Noticing Signs of Change

Forcing ourselves to change can be really useful – eating more healthily or making sure we include some exercise in our daily routine can be a great way to make some of the changes you want to see. Given that this change area is particularly difficult, I like to include the idea of “noticing”.

Noticing is bringing our attention to a particular part of our experience of life, in this case, how we are able to connect better with people with whom we are having difficulties. I would agree with the notion that we progress in the direction in which we inquire. If I spend the day noticing how well I’m able to work alongside others – negotiating, agreeing, managing differences of opinion – there is a strong chance that, at the end of that day, I will feel so much more able to continue to do the same the following day.

For a contrary experience, but using the same process of expiring the world, we all know those individuals who fall out with everybody. They are full of stories how so-and-so is incompetent and rude. Everywhere they go they meet horrible people, or at least people who turn out to be horrible. Their world is the same as ours – they have just developed the habit of noticing things that displease them. Why be that person? It sounds like hard work.

Listing and Describing

The practice of “noticing” can be either 1) largely passive, smiling to yourself as you are aware of the impact you are making or 2) more active, a deliberate attempt to chronicle these small changes that mean that you are making progress.

It helps here if you are a “list person” but you may have lots of otherwise of exploring and recording your life experience. Sit with a pen and some paper, if that’s for you and make a list of everything that’s happened recently that tells you that you are becoming more competent and confident in managing difficult conversations. Flick back over the last ten weeks of this course if that helps. As yourself the question “what else?”, in order to generate more thoughts. And dig further, don’t be content with “good meeting” what did you notice yourself doing that helped. What might other people have noticed about you? What else, what else? Make it a habit to notice of the small improvements you make.

Reflective Exercise

  • Think back – what are your experiences over the last week or so that have shown your ability in having difficult conversations?

  • What have you been most pleased to notice about the way in which you are developing good relationships, in work and out

  • What else? What else? What else?

  • You know the drill by now…


Thanks for staying with me everyone, all the way right through to the end. Many thanks. Phil


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