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The two best presents you can give this Christmas

“So what do you think mummy?”, my eight year old asked me. “What should I go for?”.

His birthday was coming up and he’d been talking to me about what present to ask for. “I can’t decide”. He persisted, with all the urgency of an 8 year old making a very important decision.

“I think ask for what you want.” I said. “You’ve been talking about a camera for ages, so why not go for that?”

“Yes but which one, mum?”. This time his tone was slightly exasperated.

Divided attention

In truth I hadn’t really been listening, I’d been reading an e-mail from a client and checking my WhatsApp messages.

I turned to him and realised that I hadn’t heard the points he’d just made. I guessed they were something about the pros and cons of each camera option. Guiltily, I replied, “Just run it by me again…”, and we had a conversation.

How often do we do this in our lives? Divide our attention between those we’re with and our smartphone or tablet. The great irony of our modern day communications is that they can make it ever more difficult to stay truly connected to the people we’re actually with. We’re constantly distracted by messages and notifications. It’s just too tempting.

Choose your focus

If any of this resonates, it’s not your fault. That smartphone in your hand was designed to be addictive. And most of us have fallen hook, line and sinker. We can take back control though. We still have the choice of where we put our attention, of how we use our time and energy.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. A friend recently posted this on Facebook:

“Ok people! I’m signing off all social media until Christmas. We have a couple of busy weeks as a family and I want to be super present for my lovely wife and kids. More time to read and reflect and just be!”

Be with who you’re with

When I was a young child we used to go to my Grannie’s house and have Christmas there most years. She was an amazing host and the meal involved multiple courses.

The thing that I remember loving the most though was after lunch when we’d sit around the table pulling crackers, telling jokes and stories and playing silly games. I loved it because it was the only time when we were all sat down as an extended family without anyone disappearing off.

The jokes were usually awful, there was always someone who didn’t get the game and one of us children stormed off because we didn’t win. It didn’t matter though. The point was that we were there, in it together.

Soon enough, there came a point when one of us -usually an adult – would get up and tidy up or watch TV. The truth was they needed some space. And that was OK too because we’d had that time of connecting.

The greatest gift that we can give to someone else is the gift of our time, our presence, our willingness to be with them and not just physically but with our full attention.

It’s also one of the hardest things to do, particularly with close family. Too often we assume we know what they are about to say because we’re so close to them. We don’t make the effort we would with someone we’d never met before.

The two best presents we can give

Most of us arrive at the Christmas break with a genuine need for some down time.

Give yourself the gift of honouring that need by scheduling in some time for yourself. A few hours to do something you really love. This is your first present – to yourself. When your own cup is full you’re much more able to give to your family when you do spend time together.

The second best present is to put that phone out of reach and just be with those you’re with in person.

So, who’s up for joining me in this?

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5 top tips to have difficult conversations better

Would you like to have difficult conversations better? In this post I aim to share my experience of what works and what doesn’t.

 

Most of us avoid difficult conversations because deep down we hope that the need to have them will go away.  Occasionally, this happens and we are proved right for putting it off.

 

The person chooses to leave the organisation and we never see them again. A restructure and we’re given a different project. Or perhaps we move on ourselves and that deals with the issue.

 

In reality though, most of the time the problem does not go away and can even get worse if we don’t find a way to tackle things that are coming up.

 

Over the years of working as a mediator, I’ve learned some top tips  that make it more likely that we’ll get what we want when we have difficult conversations.  Here are my five top tips.

 

 

 

Have the conversation sooner rather than later

 

Many of us wait until things are really difficult before broaching the tricky subject. This makes the conversation more daunting than it needs to be.

 

This is true even in low-level situations where there isn’t really an overt ‘conflict’.

 

Imagine the following situation.

 

You are new to the organisation and your manager gives you a brief on a project that she wants you to work on. After reading it, there are several acronyms and terms that you don’t understand.

 

If you’re totally honest, you’re really not that clear on exactly what it is that you’re being asked to do either. You feel a bit frustrated and annoyed that she didn’t explain it in more detail.

 

However, thinking that you need to prove yourself because you’re new to the job, you get on and give it your best shot.

 

You set up some meetings to get started and at one of the meetings, someone asks for more background information about the project. You have no idea, so you blag your way through but the other person questions some of your answers. You feel mortified. You promise to go away and bring back some answers.

 

Now you know that you really need to have that difficult conversation with you manager and you feel embarrassed because it’s been three weeks and you know that you could have had the conversation three weeks ago.

 

 

 

Have the conversation in person, however hard it may seem

In the example above, the temptation might be to send an e-mail to your manager with a number of questions instead of facing her to ‘fess up’ that you need more clarity.

 

 

However, in my experience as a mediator, 99% of the time having difficult conversations over e-mail only leads to greater confusion and often worse. This is an extremely common trend because it sometimes feels easier.  Take a deep breath and ask for a meeting.

 

 

 

Prepare yourself for the conversation

 

Make some time in your diary to prepare for the conversation.  As you prepare, consider the following questions. What is your intention with this conversation? What do you need to get out of it? How do you want your approach to be with the other person?

Even taking 15 minutes to reflect on these questions will more likely lead to a better outcome.

 

Taking our example above, you decide that your intention is to admit that you’re not sure about the project and you need a bit more support getting to grips with it.

 

In terms of what you need to get out of it, you need some clarity on what the various terms mean and also on your role. You also need to know who is the best person to call on for future support and questions – your manager or someone else.

 

Finally you need to be heard and for your manager to understand that you need a bit more direction and support as someone totally new to the company.

 

You decide you want to be open, honest and to make an apology for not asking sooner.

 

 

Go in there with the intention to listen first rather than waiting to be heard

 

If you go in there with an intention to really listen, you’ll build rapport and be much more likely to get your concerns and needs heard.

 

 

A simple tip here is to reflect back some of the key things that the other person says. This is an extremely effective communication tool that has several purposes. It builds connection. It lets the other person know that you have heard them. You act like a mirror to their words and that means that they can correct anything that you may have misunderstood.  It creates much clearer communication. It’s about reflecting back the most important points.

 

 

 

In our example, let’s say that your manager tells you what the terms mean and a bit more about your role. You say to her, “so can I just check I’m getting this? You’re saying that IGP means the ideas generation project and that you want me to coordinate this project by focusing on building key partnerships and coming up with ideas for how to integrate these new technologies? So it’s an ideas generating role mainly?”.

 

 

 

However, you’re still left unclear about who to go to for support and reporting back. Your manager seems too senior but you’re not sure who else to go to.

 

 

Be clear, open and direct with your communication

 

 

It can take time to get clear. Don’t give up! If you still don’t understand what’s been said or think that they haven’t heard your perspective, you can state your point of view clearly, respectfully and directly. In this process, aim to communicate what your main need is.

 

 

“OK I think I’m much clearer on my role. I’m still not quite clear on who I report back to once I’ve done this initial scoping work on the IGP? Where does it go from there? I really need to know who to report to and also who I can go to if I still have questions.”

 

What would your top tip for having difficult conversations better be?

 

 

I’d love to hear!

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Some reflections on how to talk to children about war and peace

It was one of those bedtime moments when there’s a choice as a parent. Do I say ‘not now’ or do I engage in the topic? It was a chance to talk to my children about war. Understandably, not one I relished, but then I’d rather they hear it from me than somewhere else.

 

To give some context, my made-up bedtime story had included a fundraiser for refugees. We ended up talking about a friend from Iraq who is seeking asylum here and I explained that he’d come to the UK to escape a war in his country. So really, I had invited the discussion.

 

What’s war like?

 

 

What’s war like? My 8 year old asked me. It’s horrible, I said. I mean I want to know what it’s like, he persisted. Is it like two teams where people shoot at each other? I think he had laser quest in his head as he said this. What happens mum?

I could see that he wasn’t going to let it go. I was in a dilemma. I didn’t want to fob them off. Children know when you’re doing that. And I didn’t want to get too graphic either. My four year old was also listening attentively and waiting for my response. How could I talk to my children about war?

 

How to talk to my children about war?

 

 

I gathered myself and tried to explain some of the edited reality of war. I told them about drones and what a bomb is and how innocent people get injured or killed. I explained that our friend had lost his family. I talked about feelings of grief and sadness.

I explained how lucky we are not to have experience of war. I reassured them that there is no war in our country. I sang them to sleep. I was worried that they would have nightmares or wake up in the night afraid.

 

 

An interesting response

 

Thankfully, they both slept very well and the next morning my son came to me to excitedly show me a picture he’d drawn. It was a series of hand drawn emoji pictures with feeling descriptors next to them.

What’s that? I asked. It’s my feelings team. Is that something you’ve been doing at school? No I just made it up, I’m going to make a comic.

 

In the weeks since then we’ve had the summer holidays and the chance to talk about our beliefs about violence and peace. I studied these things when I did my Masters. As a result, I believe that most violence comes about when basic human needs are not met, needs for food or shelter, or for the chance to contribute through meaningful work or respect.

 

The link to climate change

 

 

As I write this, the international day of peace is imminent and the focus is the climate crisis. We also prepare to take our children out of school for a day for a global climate strike. We’ve tried our best to explain the implications of climate change. We’ve talked through the value of protesting nonviolently. My son is nonplussed, he hates any conflict and my daughter is delighted as she loves to try anything new and is not averse to confrontation!

However, if we are talking about basic human needs this issue feels too important to ignore. This is our future, this is their future. As I’ve learned time and again in my work with people in conflict, if we ignore an issue it doesn’t go away.

 

 

I, for one, want to learn how to talk to my children about war. And climate change. And all the other topics that are sometimes easier for me to avoid.

 

How have you talked to your children about war, peace or climate change? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Conversation

3 tips for talking about thorny issues in your relationship

I knew that my husband and I needed to talk about money, so I brought it up.

It did not go well.

We had an argument that left an atmosphere.

Although we discussed one topic, there were several other key areas not even broached and we got to bed late, both rather deflated by the whole experience.

This used to be a familiar scene when it came to talking about money. 

So where were we going wrong? 

Firstly, timing. My husband is a morning person and I am an evening person.  It was after 9.00pm when I initiated the conversation, so it suited me perfectly but not so much my other half. He starts thinking about heading to bed at around 9.30pm, so I was not respecting his natural rhythm.  

Tip 1: Pick your timing carefully

If your topic is a thorny one, pick your timing carefully. Set aside a specific time to talk and avoid times of day when you’re hungry, tired or stressed out by a big life or work event. Nowadays, my husband and I prioritise having our money conversations in the daytime, so we’re starting from a good place.

Secondly, both of us became defensive quickly. This meant that we stopped hearing each other. We each had an agenda about what we needed to discuss and were trying to ‘win’ at that.

Tip 2:  State your expectations at the start

Take it in turns to state briefly at the start what is important to you so that you can work out an agenda together.

Thirdly, we didn’t practice active listening. Driven by my internal sense of urgency, I focussed on making sure that my husband heard me and forgot to really show that I was listening to him. He followed suit.

Tip 3: Practice active listening

Listen actively, which means summarising what you’ve just heard the other person say. This lets them know that you are really listening and checks out your understanding from the start.  

It sounds like common sense, right? But start doing it when you’re in a tense situation with your partner and it’s harder than you think.

If your other half is struggling with this, try an encouraging, “Can you tell me what you just heard me say? I just need to check that I’ve communicated it properly?”.

Nowadays, my husband and I talk about money less frequently but with more purpose and focus. It’s still not easy, but we are definitely hearing each other more.  

In the early days of our relationship, I remember once asking a very good friend to just sit and watch while we talked about money. It was one of the best conversations we ever had.

The final ‘bonus tip’ is that having a third party present can really help to change the frame of the conversation and create a way forward. I have worked with couples to support them in talking through those thorny issues, often in just one or two sessions. Though these sessions, those involved have learned about themselves and developed skills for discussing those tricky topics in the future. 

If this is something you think might benefit you, get in touch with me for an informal conversation on 0785 556 7563.

I’d love to hear from you.  What are the ‘thorny issues’ in your relationship?

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