E80pxtreeven if resolutions are not your thing, there’s still that feeling in January of wanting to get everything a bit clearer. What were the objectives again? What were we aiming for? What did we say we’d do?

So, a spate of briefings.

Several times over the last few days I’ve listened to teams, or individuals tell me what they want to happen as they look at the year ahead.

Here are the objectives, here are how we will measure them. You know the drill.
But whether big changes or little changes, the conversations have all had something in common.

Everyone’s been telling the outsider, me, what they want me to know, and do.
And then ….sort of drifting off, in a questioning way, half way through.   Truly, it’s happened 3 times in the last week, and with really smart people.  I wondered whether it might be the heating levels? Insomnia? New babies? Boredom? Or a sci-fi story come to life and I’ve actually been listening to myself?  Not sure, but I think this is what’s happening.

You know that feeling of hearing more when you get yourself into real listening mode? Of hearing the meaning behind the words?  At the best of times there’s a bit of a difference, especially in the work environment, between the words and the meaning.

The break over Christmas and New Year was a bit longer this time. (How many Boxing Days did we have?)  A bit longer to be exposed to the reality of family life, or floods, or hangovers.  That gap (I admit you do really have to be listening) between what another person is telling you and what they really want to say has been affected by this longer exposure to reality.

I think everyone is taking a bit longer to get back into business speak.

Hope it lasts.

There’s a little window to have some real conversations. A sort of January reality magic time.

To make best use of it, I recommend starting these sorts of clearing and briefing meetings with a question that’ll help everyone say what they really want to say. No, not ’what are objectives’.

Just ‘What are you thinking about at the moment?’


Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageA boisterously beautiful young person landed at a table.

I’m clumsy, and in awe of those who move fast without damage. I steadied my espresso cup just in case. But this was a choreographed whirlwind, energy with a purpose. Her companion threw up a hand for a high five and laughed.

The mise en scène. It was another Blue Monday apparently (Again! How many are there?) and the i-pad to-do lists were all out in the café. There was condensation on the windows. We were all well into broken new-year resolutions, and perhaps drinking in the caffeine of resolve for replacements. Hey, Mondays.

I want to tell you about our heroine because what unfolded was so cheering and wise.

She had a job interview. The latte was champagne this morning.

Espresso coffee - part of Penny Hunt's executive coaching regime!

So what are they looking for?’

They want someone who can lead a team, and has brilliant judgement.
I so want this. I am like so going to be that person! I could tell from the way the headhunter described the MD and the stuff he does that this is going to take loads of preparation and psyching up.  You’ve got to help me on this.

‘Right here. Drink your coffee and tell me slowly what they actually want. And what you actually want.’

The voices lowered, the heads leaned towards each other and the coaching and prep work between friends began. Isn’t it great when you see one person really listening attentively to another? Doesn’t it support and transform the person speaking? I am bound, because of my love of espresso, and years as an advertising planner in the coffee market, to think that the coffee / caffé environment has a wee bit of magic to contribute here.

How many serious issues might be resolved or helped in this simple way?

I heard an extraordinary sentence from Nick Clegg during an interview about the resolution-resisting developments amongst the Lib Dems around Lord Rennard. Round Lord Rennard. Mr Clegg had chosen not spoken to LR. He didn’t judge that necessary. The issue for a leader, he said, is to uphold the principle of mutual respect within the party.

Mutual respect. Not speaking. Ah.

Experience suggests to me that there is no reason strong enough to refuse a conversation. Never. Just about all good things start with that mysterious dance of speaking out, and then of listening.

And the dance at the table next to me gathered momentum. Our heroine had been demonstrating the different ways in which she was going to tackle this interview.

She was going to convince this difficult MD that she is the perfect person for his business. She was going to employ techniques to convince him that she has leadership, and team skills that put Angela Ahrendts to shame, and that it is a mystery amongst her peers why she is not queen of the world.

The attentive companion listened. And listened.

After a pause, he spoke.

‘Or you could just be yourself.’