Is it right under your nose?

What I’ve seen in my many years working with ‘successful’ people from different walks of life is that we often don’t notice what we’re good at. That sounds odd right? But when we’re good at something it just feels like something we do and because it comes easily we forget that it’s not something that everyone can do. As a result, we don’t make the most of these strengths or leverage our full capability.

Aside from the arrogant or narcissistic few who flaunt and overblow their capabilities, most people underplay or fob off their strengths. When they get a report output from a profile (which details various areas of personality, strengths and areas for development), they dive straight into what they are not doing well and dismiss the things that they are good at. While looking at how they can grow is helpful, like most things in life balance works best and only focusing on areas for development doesn’t allow us to reach our full potential.

One lady I coached, a senior executive in a FTSE 100, completely overlooked her capability to skilfully read her environment and navigate politics. Her core strengths was her ability to resolve issues between members of the board, to get people talking to one another about problems, to find her way around blockers in order to deliver her own agenda and enable others to fulfil theirs. Her response to this observation was “That’s just what I do, I’ve always done that, there’s nothing special about it”. But having seen hundreds of leaders up close and personal, I know that this is something a large number  desperately strive to achieve what she was ‘just doing’. Take for example the exceptionally bright high potential guy who has an IQ that’s through the roof but struggles with anything that involves EQ. Or the older executive who has always delivered through telling others and following the rules who now struggles to adapt to the ever-changing demands of todays’ fast paced environment.

The point is, we all have strengths that we take for granted that we are unaware of because they come so naturally. While the humility that accompanies this is appealing, without awareness of our strengths we can’t fully leverage them so we are doing ourselves and others a disservice. For example, I always loved psychology and studied it at University. I also had an interest in business so I did a business masters. The mistake I then made was to do what I thought was the ‘best thing to do’ – joining a business consultancy as a graduate. But this didn’t make use of my natural strengths and interests. As I gradually become more miserable and found myself chasing any elements of projects which lent themselves to the business psychologists view of the world I went back to University so that I could become a Chartered Psychologist. I love what I do and although I have self-doubts like anyone, if I hadn’t pursued this career I wouldn’t have been able to help all the people that I have (I know this as I’ve been lucky enough to have had feedback), I wouldn’t have written a book that I hope to help even more people with and I wouldn’t have been able to inadvertently influenced many people who work for the leaders I work with. I would have just been a reasonable management consultant, not an exceptional one, and not fully making use of being able to read and empathise with others. I don’t hold myself up as a gleaming example, I’m still trying to find exactly what it is I’m good at. For example, although public speaking about topics that I’m passionate about gives a far better output than when I try and fit purely with a clients needs, I still tend to focus on the latter.

Although I advocate finding strengths and using them, I don’t  believe we fulfil our potential by ignoring our weaknesses. It’s important to know what we’re not so good at, not so that we then throw ourselves into a role that forces us to get better, but so we can remain aware of the things that may trip us up or have a negative impact on others and do our best to mitigate them. So, we can find people to help fill in the gaps on areas we’re not so good at. Also, so we can seek to refine those areas that are most relevant to what we’re doing.

 

  • What are your strengths – the things that you’ve always just be able to do naturally? If you’re not sure ask people who know you really well.
  • What knowledge do you have that other people don’t and how can you use that to help achieve your own goals and help others to achieve theirs?
  • How can you apply your strengths to the goals that you want to achieve?

 

Explore your own strengths by reading:

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g. amazon.com, amazon.au, amazon.ca

Defining You gives unique access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

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Image: pexels.com

Links to some other content:

My friend Mark Couldry who I met snowboarding wrote a lovely and very generous blog about Defining You. You can read about it on his website titled ‘Unlock your full potential’. Which you can read by clicking here. 

Another couple of blogs have been posted by my publishing agents Emma Parkin and Jo de Vries of Conker House Publishing. They ‘Taking the Time’ and ‘What’s in a Book Launch’.

The blog site Sqwawqs.com a website for entrepreneurs and business re-published (with permission) my article ‘Knowing You, Knowing Me: Why Self Awareness is Critical to Any Success’. 

 

Academic text:

If you’re after a bit of bed time reading then you can find the research I did written up by  myself and Professor David Bunce (Centre for Cognition and Neuroimaging, Brunel) in the European Journal of Cognitive Psychology

Another piece of light reading, the BPS policy paper written with Professor Peter Kinderman (Professor of Clinical Psychology, University of Liverpool) and Kathryn Scott (Director of Policy and Communications, BPS). This paper is titled ‘Making better decisions: How understanding our psychology can stop us falling into the bias trap’

Or if you’re a Business Psychologist you may find my chapter ‘The Brains Behind Business’ interesting which is published in the ABP book, Business Psychology in Action. 

 

 

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What’s Your Story?

A couple of hours ago I stood waiting to get off a flight, trapped in the no mans land of disembarking the plane, waiting impatiently for the “Cabin crew prepare doors for arrival”. I looked out at the sea of faces and wondered who all these people were. Perhaps a default position of being a psychologist – I look and wonder what’s that person’s story? Where did they grow up, what makes them laugh, what makes them cry, do they have a family, what are they passionate about, what do they do every day, do they like what they do? It always amazes me to see how many people there are in any given space and time, each with their own unique pattern.

Everyone has their own story, each one of us has experienced different things and lived life in a unique and personal way. Even though there are 7.4 billion people on the planet, by nature of our genes and individual interactions, the neuronal pathways in our brains – only you are you and only I am me.

So, what?

Everyone deserves respect. We know this – I mean we’re all good people with good intentions at the end of the day, right? But we can also easily forget. Caught up in our own world of busyness, of getting on to the next thing – our more primitive brain takes over and sees the faces around us as strangers and indicative of this word’s meaning as ‘strange’. (This incidentally is a natural human response that makes me feel defensive, annoyed, protective).

On my way to Zambia, in Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport I went to the bathroom. I walked past the toilet attendant and thought about how it must feel to be in that room with no windows all day: flushing loos, cleaning seats, seeing people rush in and out again on their exciting adventures. And I wondered how that lady got there, what was her life story, did she even have a choice of what job she did or was it anything that would pay enough to live? Did she ever have opportunities, prospects? How did she see the world? On my fleeting trip in and out of the bathroom all I could offer was a big smile, no time to sit and ask her about who she was and how she got there.

While we are all human and unique, we also by nature of our biology and default all too quickly forget. So, what should we do with these people all around us – in a world crowded with faces?

Try not to stereotype

I say try, because our brain works quickly to categorise and simplify as a survival mechanism still with us from our ancient ancestors. Friend or foe, like me or not like me, opportunity or threat. We have to consciously make the decision not to let the more basic and primitive areas of our brain take over. While it may be beneficial to use our survival instincts when we’re walking home alone in the dead of night that only makes up a small fraction of time in our daily lives.

Try not to make assumptions

Once we’ve got past the point of stereotyping, the next rabbit hole our brain takes us down is stereotyping. We speak to someone at a party and find out that they’re a banker, our assumption could be that they are money and status driven and that could be the lens we then see everything they say through. For example they talk about when they were in Africa and we assume it was on some luxury safari. In actual fact it was as a volunteer helping children orphaned as a result of AIDS, and why? Because they care deeply about giving back. Even as a psychologist trained to step back from these assumptions, I can be as guilty as the next person once I’m out of work mode.

Ask questions and really really listen.

Try (again I say try because it’s not the way your brain will lead you) to remain completely open-minded, to listen with intent, to understand not to judge or think about what you are going to say next, listen to hear what that person has experienced, what they believe in, what nuances of their experience and perception makes them as unique as you and I.

What’s your experience of jumping to the wrong conclusion or being surprised by someone’s story? What have you learnt about people as you’ve gone through life? Do you have any tips on how to stop yourself from judging too quickly? I’d love to know because I really do think we can all learn from one another.

 

Explore your own story using:

Defining You: Discover telling insights into your behaviour, motives and results to unlock your full potential by Fiona Murden – available at amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, WHSmiths and Foyles in the UK.

From July 24th 2018 Defining You will also be available across the English speaking world e.g. amazon.com, amazon.au, amazon.ca

Defining You gives unique access to an online psychometric test providing a full personalised professional report.

Subscribe to our mailing list to get more news, tips and tools from Fiona

* indicates required




Be the change that you wish to see in the world….

The week before last I went to the House of Commons with eighty ‘game changing’ ladies. We discussed the need for women to put their message forward, to speak up, to put their hand up – however scared we may feel. But it’s really not easy……

Eleven years ago, I struggled into motherhood. The last couple of months of pregnancy when I was meant to be relaxing I nearly lost my Mum. Every day I sat watching her fighting for her life in intensive care. Then my beautiful baby girl came, 4 weeks early. I loved her dearly from the moment she opened her eyes, but although I desperately wanted to be a wholesome stay at home mum my over anxious brain, always trying to solve the next problem, quickly turned in on itself. The plan was to take at least a year off but the only solution to dealing with my unquiet mind was to occupy it (like distracting a small child). This was important not just for me but for my family – I was not a content, positive person to be around however much I tried. So, when my baby girl was about 7 months old I began working 2.5 days a week, riddled with guilt at leaving her. The rest of the week I struggled with feeling I didn’t quite fit anywhere in this new role or with other mums who seemed to be doing a far better job than me.

The next few years were not without hiccups – calls to travel several hundred miles to see Dad when he’d ‘once again’ ended up in hospital. Each time the fear of losing him engulfed me utterly. Another pregnancy – healthy and then a scan with no heartbeat. Pregnant again – healthy again and then a scan with no heartbeat. Investigation found I had something called Ashermans Syndrome. Another operation (I’d already had 2 with the above) to ‘fix’ things, followed by yet another miscarriage. Then, along came Polly – 6 weeks early. My pregnancy was far from straight forward and during the 2 weeks spent in hospital I became totally drowned by postnatal depression. To top it off not long after Dad died. So, I was feeling pretty vulnerable for those years.

Meanwhile I was trying to get on with a career while also protecting myself. I deliberately didn’t go out looking for work, just kept my own business modestly ticking along. But when my youngest recently started school I decided it was time to pursue my career with more purpose. To follow what I’m passionate about: helping empower people with what I know, giving access to psychology and understanding of behaviour to make a positive difference. To do this I had to put my head up and be heard. However, despite being feisty and determined I am also sensitive and fragile.

Since starting to put my work and thoughts out into the ether I have been knocked down a number of times and it’s hurt without fail. Today my book, an attempt to make academic psychology – rigorously evidence-based techniques something that’s accessible and user friendly, has been majorly cut down. A one-star rating on amazon and an embittered rage against what feels like me personally has left me feeling exposed, vulnerable and ready to throw in the towel. This isn’t how feedback is done in my line of work – instead, this is anonymous, faceless and without anything helpful.

Like the punch-drunk protagonist being knocked down in a brawl I will get up again. How can I make people’s lives better and share what I’ve learnt about psychology if I don’t stumble back into the fight? What’s the point of learning what I have if I can’t make use of it? I’m scared of being insulted, being critiqued and of being vulnerable. I know that putting my head up makes me so much more exposed but to make a difference that unfortunately comes with the territory. If it’s something I believe in (which it is) and equally whatever it is that you believe in – it matters to stand tall. And if you don’t want to put your head up to be shot down then support those who do, give them the reassurance and encouragement they need.

Shelley Zalis, an amazing, strong and inspiring lady who I was recently introduced to said “A woman alone has power, together we have impact.” She’s right, but imagine what men and women can do if we all hold each other up. Speak up with me. Don’t let me or anyone else stand alone.

 

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world”….Mahatma Ghandi

 

 

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My Vision, My Dream…

This is a short video I put together following the Game Changers event I went to at The House of Commons. It shares my vision.

 

The how comes in the form of working with other people which I aim to do via the dot-to-dot charity. Please let me know if you have any thoughts, ideas or want to collaborate in any way.

Fiona x

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