Tag Archives: relationship

Funerals, Reflections & Relationships

Last week I attended the funeral of a good, long-time friend who died just before New Year. 

The crematorium was packed to overflowing and many familiar faces were dotted amongst the crowd of people who had come to pay their last respects.  The service contained some real heartfelt tributes and as usual, we all learnt things about our friend we didn’t previously know. 

The tributes were glowing: he was dedicated, hardworking, reliable, a loving husband and father … but one phrase amongst these tributes hit me harder than anything else in the service; it was the simple phrase,

If only he knew how much he was appreciated and loved by others.”

And that set me thinking.

I had known him for nearly 30 years, yet how often had I told him that I valued his friendship and counsel?  How often had I said, “You’re a good friend” or “I appreciate you” or “If you ever want to chat, I’m here.”

Now I know it’s very easy to become introspective at funerals and think about the ‘what ifs’ and ‘If onlys’ of life, but I do think those few challenging words are very significant: to me  and to everyone in friendships or relationships.

We all need friendships and relationships to function at our best. Many will be long-standing; some will be more recent; some will be brand new.  Whatever their status, a key factor for their success is our input (the one thing we can control), both in terms of quality and quantity.

Why do we have relationships?

We’re human beings and we need personal contact: without it we’re potentially heading for potential health risks and psychiatric disorders/imbalances.  If it were not so, why is solitary confinement used as a form of torture to break down resistance and extract information/cause harm and suffering?

The nature of relationships will vary depending on their context e.g., personal relationships will be different to business relationships, but the core requirements are pretty consistent regardless of their context.  Three common scenarios are:

‘I’m in it for what I can get out of it’:  most of these are doomed to problems and failure, and are not actually true relationships. 

‘I’m in it for what I can put into it’: these are far more likely to work if the action is reciprocated by the other party(ies).

‘I’m in it for how we can support and help each other‘: these are the most likely to survive and thrive through good and bad times.

Face-to-face contact

An important part of a relationship is face-to-face contact.  Many of these face-to-face interactions carry far more value than we realise since many non-obvious factors like expression, body language, touch etc, reinforce our words and actions. It’s at these times that we can really build each other up and make the other person feel valued and important.  It may be a natural part of our relationship or we may have to work at it.  Whichever is true, it is important.

Attending my friend’s funeral has reminded me of the importance of these ‘personal’ moments and of my responsibility to help make my relationships successful.

If we are successful in just this area, we will have made a difference to other people’s lives and, I believe, made a difference to our own life too, because as our behaviour changes in one area it will almost certainly impact many other areas of our life at the same time … and surely that can only be a bonus.

Advertisements

Lessons from Buena Vista Orchestra

Last night was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve enjoyed for a very long time. Eight months after buying the tickets, I witnessed the phenomenon that is the Buena Vista Orchestra (also known as Orquestra Buena Vista & Buena Vista Social Club).

Many of the original stars from that special night in Carnegie Hall in 1998 have since passed on, but what remains is still a testament to the skill, passion and fun of Cuban musicians, many of whom have been formative in the creation of what we now know as Latin music.

Reflecting on why they were so special, I came up with several things that set them apart from other concerts and bands I have seen (and enjoyed):

  1. A sense of history – Many of these people have helped to create the music synonymous with Cuba, the platform on which today’s musicians build. Age is no issue; it’s a strength and a valuable commodity. Experience is something we often overlook as we clamber to be new and different; often too insecure to learn from those who’ve gone before.
  2. A sense of value and heritage – These people are firmly connected to their music and cultural roots. It’s not a problem; it’s a bonus. They are not afraid of their culture, nor to share that culture and history with their audience, most of whom have little or no connection to it (apart from music). It’s not about preaching; it’s about showing and sharing; inviting others on board … and judging by the response of the 2500 people at the concert, they were successful.
  3. They connected with their audience – Many of us could learn a great deal from the members of Buena Vista Orchestra. They brought something that can be difficult to connect with if you’re not a part of that culture … and enabled us to connect with it. Even musicians often fail to connect with the complex rhythms, how the pieces fit together, how the melodies interweave. Others can’t handle the fluidity and movement in the music, music that doesn’t sit comfortably with a click track yet is devilishly tight. Yet, this wasn’t a problem for the audience as these masters of their art communicated with people’s hearts and souls, calling them on board to experience something new, even if they didn’t understand it. They felt it, were drawn in by it and stoked the fire for more … which they got!
  4. They promoted each other – The musicians were clearly ‘old school’ in their playing, but that is what made it so great. There were no stars on stage; they were all stars and they created a platform for their colleagues to shine. Their playing was an expression of themselves but was for each other and the audience, not self-indulgent and about themselves … a lesson many of us could learn.
  5. They exuded joy – Music wasn’t just something technical to be played; it wasn’t just an exercise in playing the correct notes; being safe or cerebral. The music they played was part of them; it was their soul; their passion; something to express who they are; from their hearts. It was something to enjoy and that enjoyment spurred each other on and fired the audience. Their enthusiasm and passion was infectious, drawing others in.
  6. They were themselves – As we passed the stage door after the gig (and there was no-one else around … how rare is that?) the band emerged and were no different to how they were on stage; smiling, laughing and very willing to give time for a brief chat and sign tickets.

It took me a long time to fall asleep last night. I was full of the gig and my mind raced over and over through the tunes and why I’d enjoyed the evening so much.

Now all I need to do is apply some of what I’ve learnt and hopefully those I meet will benefit.

Thank you Orquestra Buena Vista. Long may you continue to inspire those who have the privilege and pleasure of witnessing your concerts (and your music).

HR: A waste of Time?

How many Human Resources departments contain people whose ability to communicate on a human level is close to or less than zero?

I have friends who see themselves as leaders of people and therefore, the ideal material for a career in HR, when they would be better suited as guards in a prison camp.

Just recently a local school was in need of help from the Local Education Authority due to problems that have arisen through poor leadership.   When things came to a head, the messenger of doom from the LEA HR Department advised the staff that the problem was in hand but they were no means out of the muck so they’d better not rest on their laurels.

Excellent! Why not just say, “You bunch of incompetents!  You need our help and we are going to be watching every move you make.”  Like Boris in Golden Eye, “We are invincible!

Had the problem arisen through shortcomings by the very experienced staff who taught at the school, fine; but they weren’t!  They were the result of rules  imposed by a rather single-minded head, who had little regarded for advice by teachers, parents or the LEA and who ruled with an iron rod in a velvet sack.

Separating out the issues from the emotion, this situation did not need a social incompetent from the LEA HR department to exercise their authority.   It needed and still needs someone to say, “You know what?  This is a pretty sticky situation you’re in but you have the experience, we have the expertise so let’s work together and we’ll sort it out.

HR departments are no different to any other.   They are run by people and need (perhaps more than ever, because of the weight of authority they carry, good, basic, grunt level human interactive and social skills.

(As a quick aside … Why do they deny this authority?  In case of legal comeback?  Smoke and mirrors?  Deceit?  I can still remember being told by one HR Commandant that they can only advise and not tell … hmmm!)

It’s not about power (though I think for many it is about getting a kick/security from being in control and influencing others; not necessarily for good).   It’s about empowering; giving people the tools and support they need to achieve the tasks and overcome the threats, barriers, hurdles they face.  Poor leadership says much more about the leaders than those they lead.

There is a flip side to this …

There is a saying that “where the darkness is darkest, the light shines brightest.”   I want to thank those seemingly increasingly few members of HR departments who really do stand out as being people who fit the job like a silk glove (rather than a boxing glove).  Those who

  • Are a source of inspiration, support and common sense in a quagmire of ego
  • Really are the personal side of a department that purports to be about people
  • See themselves as having a personnel role rather than just a project manager

Those people who prove daily that HR does not stand for Human Remains.

Surely, if HR is going to be effective they have to communicate and interact effectively with the people for whom they have responsibility/oversight.

If they do, great.

If not, then they are potentially rather a waste of time!

Teamwork Suffering in Downturn

I have just read a very disturbing, yet unsurprising article reporting that 12% of workers admit to having become more insular during the recession. 

At the very time when companies need greater interaction and greater interdependency (teamwork), individuals are seeking to protect their own workloads and projects and around some 27% admit to working longer hours.

The report quotes Mike Bourne, professor of business performance at Cranfield University School of Management as saying,

“Team collaboration and knowledge sharing is essential to help businesses chart a way through the current climate. However, while some employees are understandably worried about job security, firms with business processes to automate teamwork are able to reconcile both workforce productivity and personal performance.”

See report here.

I’m not sure whether it is part of British DNA or culture, but we seem to really struggle with the concept of working together to achieve a common goal.  Perhaps we’ve had experiences where we’ve been betrayed by those whom we have trusted, or had others leapfrog over us as they take our ideas and use them for personal gain and promotion. 

Unfortunately, these sad characters will always be with us. 

But teamwork is exactly the forum that will help to expose these individuals and it provides the team with a level of security impossible to achieve on an individual level.  Who in their right mind (if they are that way inclined) will take on a group of people, a group which is likely to include members of the management team?

But teamwork isn’t really about sinking these rogue battleships; it’s about achieving an objective more quickly, efficiently and completely than is possible when we work alone.

The proof is in the marketplace.  Look at the most successful companies and see how many of these use teams and creative approaches to problem solving and company direction.  A recent survey suggested that in business cultures which engender trust and co-operation, productivity is around 269% greater than where it is absent.

I guess it’s up to us whether we choose to believe the statistics and give it a go … or continue as we are.  Only time, and possibly company solvency will tell.

What are the Dangers of Self-Esteem & Self-Confidence?

This may seem to be a pointless question after my last few posts, but self-esteem and self-confidence, like most other qualities must be held in balance.

We have all met the ‘over-confident’ and those whose ego and self-esteem are so inflated that they are nothing short of a pain (or danger) to be around. 

Just as a balanced diet should be exactly that, BALANCED, so confidence and esteem must be balanced with and grounded in reality.

Historically, we have been taught that many bullies, aggressive, violent or anti-social individuals have a problem with low self-esteem and low self-confidence.  More recent, controlled research suggests that these characteristics are commonly demonstrated when unearned self-esteem (an inflated sense of self-importance or superiority over others) is challenged or the individuals concerned feel humiliated. 

These people have a self-esteem or self-opinion that is over-inflated and has no grounding in reality.  As a consequence, it is very frail when challenged.

Why mention this?

Well, I think it is important to understand that seeking increased self-esteem and self-confidence as entities on their own is not a healthy pursuit.  Both characteristics need to be grounded in reality and grounded in the context of our character. 

Both characteristics are also under our control.  We have a RESPONSIBILITY as well as a right to handle the skills we have and the best way to do that is by grounding them into reality. 

I saw a scary video the other day of a 10-year-old boy in America addressing a crowd of 20000 people.  Great!  Good for him!  But what is so scary is that he was a clone of the high pressure salesmen and public speakers we fear, and at such a young age is highly susceptible to being manipulated, as well as manipulating others.  The content of what he had to say was actually very good, but his delivery bore no relationship to his age or experience.  The words he used were of someone at least 20-years his senior … and that is probably where they came from.  This was not a demonstration of healthy self-esteem and self-confidence.

So, I’d like to finish where I started my first entry a few days ago … which is by relating self-esteem to self-worth.

If we feel that intrinsically we have value (which I differentiate from importance) we are more likely to respond to the needs around us because we are confident that what we bring has value, even if it isn’t necessarily the total solution.

I believe that building and increasing self-esteem in others (and in ourselves) is a frequently overlooked tool for birthing success; in everything we do