Tag Archives: self confidence

Making Complex Ideas Easy to Understand

If you read my last blog entry you’ll remember that I discovered what is perhaps my key skill, making complex things easy to understand, following a long period of working with people whose background was very different to my own and thought very differently to myself. 

This discovery didn’t come overnight and it was only after working in often difficult and frustrating circumstances that I was able to find my talent, even if it did have to be confirmed by people around me before the ‘light went on’ and I realised what it was! 

In reality, the little phrase I now use to crystallise my skill, Making the Complex Easy was only finally formulated a couple of months ago whilst talking to my business mentor about it.  Thankfully, Sandra is very persistent and also very perceptive and the phrase eventually fell out as I tried to capture what I did in less than a paragraph!

We were discussing my experiences whilst studying for my PhD; whilst working in the pharmaceutical industry; whilst working in schools; with friends; in church.  Time and time again the examples we discussed had the same repeating theme: 

How can I make it easy for others to understand what I’m saying?

This was important to me becasue I have always been someone who has had to work hard to understand things.  Combine this with a  severe lack of contentment if I couldn’t really ‘get inside’ and understand what I was trying to learn.  Knowledge for me has more to do with its application than knowledge for knowledge’s sake

By understanding something I can use my knowledge in how I decide to move forward and use it in my own life and situations.

So, I suppose it was a natural progression that I should want others to enjoy the same opportunities.  Here are a few of the instances we discussed of how and when I’d made complex things easy:

  • My PhD was focussed on pain relief and what was involved in helping us control painful stimuli, so important in conditions like malignant diseases.  More than once I was asked to explain what I was investigating by friends who had no science background.  So, I was often trying to explain complex pharmacological and biochemical processes in simple terms like opening and closing gates, keys in locks, motorways and side roads.
  • One of my tasks whilst working in the pharmaceutical industry was training sales representative, many of whom were from a marketing and selling background and without any science input, on the decidedly unsimple process of our body’s immunological response to infection by viruses.  Here terms like cavalry, snipers, secret messengers and chewing and spitting were used to demystify the process.
  • My last role in the pharmaceutical industry before I accepted redundancy was to provide technical and information support to physicians and researchers on the data available to support the use of a specific drug in difficult-to-treat and potentially life-threatening conditions.  The problem I was faced with was that I had over 600 slides in my presentation with a usual time slot of a lunch break (i.e., between 10 minutes and 1 hour).  My solution was to reverse the process and devise an interactive presentation where my audience told me what they wanted to talk about and we ‘dipped-in’ and ‘dipped-out’ of the presentation and information available.  This seemed a revolution to many of my audience and I spent hours discussing how they could put together a similar format for their own work, thereby enabling the passing-on of important information in a more targetted way: reducing a complex array of slides to easy-to-digest, smaller segments.
  • Whilst working I often took time out to visit schools and help children to understand what they were learning in the science of sound arena.  As a drummer and percussionist I was used to making sounds (noise some would call it) and as a scientist I understood some of the principles behind the sounds I was making.  So I took samples of my drums and percussion into schools and we experimented together and began to understand what made some sounds high, some low; some loud and some soft. What amazed me after these lessons was that I received a lot of feedback on how the children had used some of the more socially orientated skills (listening, talking, thinking together) and the reasoning and experimental approaches in their other subjects and in generally working together in  other lessons.  Making it easy in one subject had been transferrable to other areas of school life (and hopefully in their wider life). 
  • My daughter, who is no scientist, was revising for her GCSEs and needed to understand the basics of the electrophoresis of DNA for DNA profiling.  Saying the word is difficult, let alone understanding it.  So I explained that the long strand of DNA is cut into lots of smaller pieces by enzymes (chemical saws).  The result is a bit like a shoal of fish:  some very small; some larger; some longer; some big and some huge. The plate onto which the sample of ‘chewed DNA’ is placed is like lines of fishing nets and when the electric current was switched on, it was a bit like a river or the tide flowing, taking the fish with it.  Little fish was pass easily through the nets and the longer and larger fish would get stuck more quickly or have to work harder to swim through the nets.  The huge fish wouldn’t be able to get through at all and would stay where they were.  At the end of the experiment when the electric current is switched off, it is like taking a snap shot or photograph of where all the fish are.  The ‘bands of fish’ are like the bands of DNA on the plate: smaller fish/pieces of DNA have travelled furthest, largest fish/pieces of DNA haven’t been able to move at all.  My daughter understood this more pictorial, less scientific approach and manged to answer questions on her GCSE paper, getting a Grade B which was a true miracle.

… and I guess that’s why I’m so passionate about making difficult things easy to understand … once we understand them we have chance to use the knowledge and achieve more than we thought possible.

There will always be those who like to keep things complicated because it gives them a sense of power and importance; they are the only ones who know.  But in a world where increasing co-operation is becoming a key factor (especially in business) and clarity of understanding paramount, the sharing of knowledge in an easy to understand way is, I believe becoming ever more crucial, not  only for success, but for survival.

Advertisements

What We Have Not What We Don’t!

I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest hurdles I’ve had to overcome (and still fight daily) is the idea that others know more than me, especially in areas where I am dubbed an expert.

I think a lot of it goes back to when I was younger, especially in my teen years where, although I was in the top set at school there were those around me who were like a cerebrum on legs: they oozed ability, knowledge and were more concerned with where they’d lost two or three marks in their exams than with where they’d gained them!

The problem with hanging out with these guys wasn’t anything to do with their personalities: most of them were really great people to be around.  It was the toll that it all took on my self-confidence and self-esteem.  My mind had a field day, reinforcing all those doubts that had ever dared to enter my thinking, or had been placed there by others.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40’s that I was forced to go back and revisit these difficult and confusing times when recovering from serious illness.  During the long, slow, often painful process that was called recovery I was forced (in the nicest way possible) to see these things in their true perspective and identify the lies that I had taken on-board and made an integral part of my life and psyche.

One of the biggest mistakes I had made was when I started looking at my abilities in comparison to others.  We live in a competitive world where we are continually compared to others BUT there is no need for us to do it to ourselves.  When we go for a new job, invariably our skill sets, talents and background will be compared to those of others competing for the same job.  That is the interviewer’s job. 

HOWEVER, we want to be at our best in those situations, showing others our true self and abilities. 

If we focus on what we don’t have and what we can’t do as well as others, then we will never see our own unique talents; our own unique skills and the things that we CAN bring to the table that others can’t. 

Here’s a couple of examples from my own life that may help:

  • When I left school, I went straight to university but was so clueless and dispirited about what I wanted to/could do that I gave up after a term (though I did return with my first drum kit … but that is another story!).  I worked for 3 years and then decided that I would go back to studying as I had a much clearer idea of where I wanted to go (and where I couldn’t go at that time without a degree).  I entered the first year of my degree expecting to be worse than the fresh young things entering straight after their A-levels.  I looked to the brightest of them for encouragement and help but I was always aware in my own mind that I wasn’t as good as them.  That was confirmed in my exams at the end of the year.  For some reason and I still don’t know why, I decided over the Summer holidays that I would really work for myself and make sure that I understood what I was doing.  This meant re-learning a lot of what I’d not learnt very well during my first year.  The second year was different.  Nothing changed in my ability to work with others, but my internal focus was now on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.  I really WANTED to learn and understand to the best of MY abilities.  I came top of the year in my second year exams, something I could never have dreamed of.  I wasn’t the brightest on paper (my A-level results wer mediocre at best) but my focus had changed and I’d achieved my potential (albeit with a lot of hard work).  I passed my degree with a higher grade than I would ever have expected and then went on to higher study.  The point I’m trying to encourage you with is that if we look at ourselves it’s very easy to see what we lack.  But we have so much to offer that others don’t, and others rarely see the failings in ourselves that we do!  I’m definitely not trying to propose some self-help mantra but I am suggesting that a change of focus can bring a change of attitude and facilitate us reaching our fuller potential. 
  • Another example was when I was working as a member of a Medical Department’s clinical research team in the pharmaceutical industry.  I knew some of my strengths:  people skills, patience, generally up-beat and good to be around etc.  But, it took several years of working with the Dark Side, i.e., members of the Marketing Department, to really bring my core skills to the fore.  Medical Departments generally work to a dinosaur type time-scale; it takes a long time to design, set-up, run, and report clinical trials.  Marketing work very much in the here and now and want results today (or yesterday if possible). Initially I worked to set-up a Medical-Marketing Interface, a group of people from both departments who could get together on a regular basis to discuss what their priorities were at that time, what they were for the next year and the reality of what information was likely to become available or be wanted in that time.  These were not easy meetings but they gradually evolved into a broader set of discussion forums that really helped the two departments work together more effectively.  They opened the way for more constructive interaction rather than shooting at each other from the parapets.  Through them there was also much closer collaboration in the construction of sales and marketing literature and this is where I discovered something that had probably been obvious but I’d never seen it!  My personal ‘gem’ was an ability to make complex and highly technical scientific and medical ideas easy to understand by all, including those from a non-technical and non-scientific background.  This did two things: a) It boosted my confidence; I did have something special to offer and b) it paved the way for my last role in corporate business, that of communicating and building professional relationships with members of the medical and research communities and providing fora in which we could openly discuss  data supporting the use of specific drugs in difficult-to-treat-conditions.  It was also interesting that when I left my job, many of the most moving ‘good-bye’ messages came from these same people.

It took me a long time to realise that it’s not always simply how much we know, it’s a lot more to do with recognising our own skills and talents, developing and using these to the best of our abilities, whilst never missing the opportunity to hear what others are saying about us.  As we refine our path, we will be amazed at what we have to offer and as with my university exams, we may just move from being one of the crowd to being a leader. 

Even if we don’t, I can guarantee that you’ll feel so much better about yourself and be more confident with what you can offer.

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!

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

How can we affect self-esteem & self-confidence in others?

It is always worth considering what impact we can and do have on the self-esteem and self-confidence of other.  If these qualities in us are affected by external input from our parents, peers etc (i.e., others) then we too can have significant impact on the self-esteem and self-confidence in others.

Let’s consider as an example, the boss who wants to add some stretch to the expectations of his staff in order that they can develop and grow in their roles.  How can he help them to grow and develop and achieve these goals?  I would argue that one way is to reinforce their self-esteem and develop their self-confidence.  These promote not only independent thinking and working, but also the security to approach others for assistance if and when needed.  But what happens if this boss

  • Sets targets, and then continually reviews them and re-sets them as they are met? 
  • Sets targets that are simply not achievable? 
  • Introduces so much stretch in the objectives that they push the individual beyond their elastic limit? 
  • Continually focuses on targets that are not being met and ignores those that have been achieved or exceeded? 
  • Provides criticism and objective advice without praise and reward?

These scenarios are all too common in business today; many through pressures to perform in difficult or changing economic climates; many through personal drive or feelings of the need to achieve or survive; many through ignorance.  Whatever the reason, the end result is the same; underachievement, low morale, suspicion and loss of best staff (either voluntarily or through ill-health).

When the pinch comes the focus can be turned so strongly onto the objective that we neglect the means of achieving that objective, our staff.  Survey after survey shows that the best results, greatest growth and greatest stability arise where people feel valued, rewarded and are given the freedom to try, in other words, where people have a feeling of worth (self-esteem) and the confidence to make a significant and recognised contribution (self-confidence).  It’s also interesting that in many cases, reward constitutes little more than acknowledgement and being thanked.  It does not necessarily have to be a salary increase or monetary award.

The problem is that in many cases, praise, thanks and acknowledgement have been consigned to the annals of history.  The positive side to this is that where there is a cultural change from a praise vacuum to one of acknowledgement, the change in atmosphere, attitude and motivation can be remarkably rapid and greater than could be expected.

So, if encouraging others costs nothing, apart from a bit of pride, self-discipline and effort, but reaps such great rewards, what are the barriers to us starting, now?

  • Pride?
  • Time?
  • Image?
  • Effort?
  • Expectations?
  • Office structure?
  • … other reasons?

If survival, growth and development are priorities in our businesses then none of these barriers is too great to overcome.  Most are personal anyway.  And if it is a case of reorganisation or redundancy, then there can be little argument against the case.

The benefits of building self-esteem and self-confidence in others and ourselves are that we are laying the foundations for greater things; creativity and innovation.

More of that next time …

The Power of Music to Change the Label

Don’t you just love the way we label people … loser, nobody, somebody, hero … etc.

But we make these decisions with very little supportive evidence .

We look at people, perhaps at what they’ve done (or not done) and then we decide on their value, which is incredibly subjective and can be based on such strong scientific principles as ‘How we feel’!!

I recently ran a drumming workshop with a group of people aged from 19 into their early 20’s. If you were to put labels on them, many would have opted for terms like ‘nobodys‘.

In fact if you asked them who they were, they’d probably tell you that they are nobodys (based on what society has told them) because they are a group who have struggled with school and come from backgrounds which have resulted in such low self esteem that they rate their value as zero.

BUT they are one of the BEST groups I have ever run workshops for!  Period.

Sure, many were shy but they were great listeners, sensing changes in feel and rhythm, and when we stopped, everyone stopped on exactly the same beat. Some were prepared to try solos. They were willing to give it their best shot.

Here are some labels I would use for this group:

  • Winners
  • Brave
  • Enthusiastic
  • Great learners
  • Listeners
  • Smilers
  • Relaxed (eventually!)
  • Contributors
  • An inspiration to me

And if that is being a nobody then I want to be one too!

Thank you all for making it such a great session and teaching me what it takes to overcome personal barriers and uncertainties to make things rock!

You are an inspiration and don’t let anyone ever tell you that you are a nobody.

You have more going for you than you may realise for some time. But once you can grasp how special you all are and what talents you have, then you will see yourselves very differently.

I just pray that the rest of us will give you chance to shine as you did in our workshop.

**************************

I was greatly encouraged to receive the following comments from one of the youth leaders after the event …

“I thought the session was tremendous. It was a great environment for our guys, many of whom have low self-esteem. The way they were able to join in with the session without feeling pressured worked really well. Overall, the evening was a memorable event for our guys and a very enjoyable one!”   TS; Youth Leader