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Friday, 13th today. Superstitious rubbish, yes or no?

It’s never really bothered me, although I can’t say I’d be rushing to arrange anything special on that particular date.

One estimate suggests that between 17 and 21 million Americans are so afraid of this date that companies will lose between $800 and $900 million in business due to them refusing to travel or go to work.

The fear in some is so great it has its own name: paraskevidekatriaphobia.

Whatever we believe ourselves, there are always others who will think and feel differently. As responsible and empathetic leaders, managers and colleagues, the better we understand our people, teams and colleagues, the better we are able to serve and support them.

Taking time to observe and talk to our colleagues allows us to notice changes in behaviour; do they seem distracted or withdrawn, have they unexpectedly called in sick, or made their excuses to avoid travelling? Just a few of the signals to suggest that they may need some support.

By taking them aside and asking really simple and authentic open questions such as, “How are things going today?” can promote a conversation where they feel confident in speaking about their concerns. Actively listening to their responses can open the door to longer conversations, not only giving us insight into how we can offer support, but building solid foundations of trust and psychological safety.

So, do you know any paraskevidekatriaphobes? Or don’t you know?

Perhaps today is a good time to find out.

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5 Steps for People Managers

“Your life may have changed, but the world keeps on turning”.

That was the rather clumsy message delivered to me, aged 17, by my manager when my dad suddenly passed away.

And it's right isn’t it?

Only at the time it didn’t feel right. I’d just lost my dad and I was expected to just man up and get on with it.

That was the last time it was mentioned in the office.

At the time, I believed this was the way we had to deal with things; stiff upper lip, not bringing your personal life to work, because it was all I had experienced.

Fast forward to today and I’m relieved that on the whole we experience a more compassionate workplace. And yet, the same challenges remain.

Some People Managers still struggle to find the right words to have compassionate conversations with their teams.

Worse still, some avoid it because they don’t know what to say or do or they don’t feel comfortable having the conversation. It’s the same as people crossing over the road to avoid having to speak to you isn’t it?

So how can you be better supported and prepared for these types of conversations?

Here are 5 ways to help.

1. Observe

Get to know your team

  • Invite them to share details of their family and personal life

  • Call them simply to see how they are, without talking about business

  • Ask them how they are really feeling

  • Share your own feelings and some of your own personal challenges

2. Actively listen

Put aside distractions and completely focus on the conversation

  • Don’t answer phones, check emails or look for a quick exit

  • Check your body language

  • Positively affirm that you are present (nod head, facial expression)

  • Connect with their feeling in your response e.g.

“I can’t imagine what you’re going through”

“I don’t know what to say”

“You’re not alone”

“I’m here for you”

“I’m so glad you told me”

3. Ask Questions

Ask open questions to encourage a conversation

  • “How are you feeling about …”

  • “How are you handling …”

  • “How are you finding…”

4. Acknowledge

Some people may feel that their feelings shouldn’t be brought into the workplace, so by acknowledging what they’ve said you provide the psychological safety and permission that they need. Try things like:

  • “That makes sense”

  • “I understand”

  • “I can appreciate that”

5. Offer support

By offering support you move an empathic conversation into a compassionate one. Try questions like:

  • “How can I help?”

  • “What can I do?”

  • “What do you need?”

Why Compassion is important for People Managers

Neuroscience shows that too much empathy (ie putting yourself in the other person’s shoes) can cause stress and burnout as the same brain regions are activated in both the person suffering and the person empathising.

Alternatively, compassion produces feelings of concern, warmth, trust and motivation to help the other person.

Research shows that compassionate leaders are

  • preferred among employees

  • more popular

  • more comfortable to talk to

  • more positive in giving honest feedback

  • and they inspire others to follow them

If you feel that you or your People Managers are struggling to have these kind of conversations, or that you’d find value in some additional support, do get in touch. I’ll be very happy to share how I’m working with other clients who share similar challenges.

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I’ve recently started baking sourdough.

When a lovely friend gave me the most amazing loaf recently, I nonchalantly asked her for the recipe (Cue chuckles from those of you who are sourdough experts!).

“Well”, my friend replied, “it’s really more of a science than a recipe”.

And she wasn’t wrong.

Have you ever seen how Sourdough is made?

It’s a two-day process involving feeding a starter and creating a leaven before any actual dough is even considered.

What I’ve realised by my 4th attempt, is that this process is a personal investment.

It’s gone way past simply producing a loaf of bread.

Every single attempt is different, dependent on ingredients, hydration, time and even the temperature of the water and the external ambience.

The best result requires attention, observation, nurturing and caring (and some good, friendly advice!)

And it occurred to me this morning (as I was mid-process, ready for my Saturday bake) that it’s very much like developing the individuals in a team.

1. Ingredients – everyone in your team is different; different personalities, cultures, goals, mindset, behaviours. And these can change from day to day depending on what’s going on around them

2. Attention – as leaders we need to be present and focused, every day. How we show up will impact our team results. We need to look after ourselves to create resilience, which will allow us to support others

3. Observation – it’s not enough to show up when challenges occur or when our people are struggling. We need to get to know our teams, understand their values and motivations so that we can notice the small ‘tells’ which suggest that something isn’t quite right

4. Nurturing – how are we helping our team to grow? How can we tweak the recipe to create an even better experience for our people and the business? Have we discussed development areas? Are we using mentoring and coaching skills to explore their growth opportunities?

5. Caring – having an emotional interest in the wellbeing of the team; regular (work and non-work) check-ins, demonstrating value, recognising great work, saying ‘thank you’, listening, showing compassion. Genuinely having a vested interest in your team success

There is no, one answer. Things won’t turn out the same every time. But when you have the right ingredients, the right mindset and the emotional connection to your purpose, you’re giving yourself and your team the very best opportunity for a great result.

If you’d like to explore mentoring as an organisation or if you are People Manager in need of a mentor, please get in touch to discuss whether we might be a good fit and how we might be able to work together.

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