Its a cold, dreary Monday and I don’t feel like doing much, but I’ve promised A that we’ll go to the Evolving English exhibition at the British Library. There are several ways we can get there, and it turns out to have been a GOOD idea not to go via the Hammersmith & City as there are signalling problems. I’m on automatic pilot, getting off the tube at London Bridge to change, thinking about where the right platform is, when the broad shoulders in front of me, which I was thinking of purely as an obstacle to skirt, turn into a outstretched arms and a big grin, and there is someone I haven’t seen for a couple of years, and who has been in New Zealand for six months- right in front of me, and offering a big hug. We let the train go, and talk for the four minutes before the next one, have several more hugs and go on our way restored.

All round the exhibition which is interesting (and would be more so if I got my glasses changed so I could see some of the exhibits) I’m thinking about C, and what the chances were of him being stood there, by that exact door of that exact train, and how we mightn’t have met if the signalling on the H&C had been working properly.

copyright Cherry Potts 2011

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Resolution … Evolution

Owl Quote i am Like and Owl in the Desert. Anne Clifford

something to think about - what does that mean exactly? image copyright Cherry Potts

It’s that time of year.

I get bloody minded about new year resolutions: you won’t catch me in the gym in January, it’s too full of people regretting that final slice of Christmas cake. And really, it makes better sense to make plans at times of year when you think you might be able to keep to them.  Winter is a time for eating and taking insufficient exercise, so you might as well enjoy it, save up the long walks and salads for the spring.

So my resolutions, such as they are, don’t often happen at this time of year, although its a good time to take stock and think about what my resolutions might be, and how I’d like them to grow.

Resolution is based on determination and will power, and seems rather rigid to me.  It is often about making yourself do something you don’t really want to.  I’m more comfortable with a more fluid set of plans, and setting myself goals that will make me happy.  So I don’t say ‘I need to lose ‘x’ amount of weight’, I say ‘I want a healthier lifestyle’.  If that leads to weight loss that’s fine, but it’s being healthy that matters. That’s something I can sign up to, and can see the benefit of.  And if I feel the need of a deadline (or a life line, so much more use…) I have a significant birthday this year so I can set that as my measuring post

for a bit of comparison.  I’m really not interested in punishing myself for failings, it’s more constructive to be pleased when I make something I want happen.

This is my version of what is known as a ‘well-formed outcome’ in NLP and (as with all things) I prefer an organic approach, to let my idea of what I want, and how to achieve it, evolve from a positive ideal and a pleasing method.

So whatever your resolutions, may they be happy and pleasurable.

Have a wonderful 2011

copyright Cherry Potts, Change from Choice 2011

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What do we mean when we talk about compromise?  I get the feeling it can be rather a negative idea.

The OED definition is:

To settle a dispute by mutual concession; or to bring under suspicion or into danger by indiscreet action,

Perhaps the negative connotations of the second definition colour the meaning of the first?

It seems to be about not getting enough of what we want, in order to satisfy someone else, or what we are prepared to give up, probably grudgingly, to get close to what we originally thought we wanted.

Doesn’t this assume that the person we are compromising with (or is that for?) is in competition for a finite resource, or that they want the exact opposite from us, and it is impossible for us to have both?

This is something I think of as the Cordelia Complex, after the rigid thinking youngest daughter of King Lear in Shakespeare’s play, who asks,

Why have my sisters husbands if they say they love you all?

Haply I shall wed,

That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry

Half my love with him, half my care and duty:

Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,

To love my father all.

It doesn’t seem to occur to her that her capacity to love can expand to include a husband without impacting her father.  Cordelia believes she is acting and speaking from principle, and she despises her sisters for their easy flexibility.  She is prepared to give away a third of her father’s land for the right to stand by her principles, and I have to admit to a sneaking admiration for her determined self martyrdom.  What she hasn’t bargained for is that Lear withdraws his love as well as his land, something she would not willingly have lost.

Actually thinking about it, King Lear is full of the negative impact of compromise and negotiation, as Lear divides and apportions love and land in unequal and unfair portions, only to have his two elder daughters negotiate away all his power and friends between them.

So what if Cordelia is wrong?  What if compromise is giving the other person something they want very much, that costs you nothing to let them have – after all, her father just wants her to say publicly that she loves him just as much as he loves her, and she does love him that much, but she just can’t bring herself to fawn in public.

And what if compromise means the other person want something you don’t want or need for yourself?

The concept of meeting in the middle seems to be part of the problem (although not in King Lear- never was there less middle ground in evidence!)  so why can’t compromise be about swapping ends of the seesaw of wants, so that balance is maintained and no one loses?

Orange plate showing Man and Woman dancing on a seesaw

swapping ends of the seesaw of wants, so that balance is maintained and no one loses... image copyright Prue Cooper

So if the idea of compromise sends you leaping for your body armour and a banner saying NEVER!!! in dripping red paint, maybe its time to think beyond what you would never compromise on, and think: what negotiation is allowable?

If it is easy and no effort, is compromise acceptable?  Or does it somehow not count as a real compromise unless it hurts a bit?

What would it be like if compromise was easy, satisfying, rewarding, pleasurable…

If the banner and the armour weren’t needed, what could they be replaced with???

Copyright Cherry Potts, Change from Choice 2010

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Surviving the ‘RE-organisation’

pebbles on a beach, tide coming in

The tide of change coming in... copyright Cherry Potts 2010

I’ve been thinking some more about redundancy, and its impact, not on the people who leave an organisation, but on those left behind.

In the days when I worked for big organisations, there would be a reorganisation about every three to four years, and as I tended to be quite a loyal soul, I stuck it out; and probably went through the process at least three times at each organisation I worked for.  It doesn’t get any easier with repetition nor with seniority.  Being invited to apply for your own job is one of those uniquely insulting things that can rile the most willing and committed member of staff.  This is well recognised, and those planning a reorganisation accept that during the period of uncertainty productivity will suffer along with morale. It is also recognised that your more ambitious staff will head off at the first sign of a consultation period.

From the staff point of view, the cynicism sets in the second time a reorganisation hits, and the despair at the point you’ve been around long enough for the process to come full circle and you are reorganised back to the process or structure that was in place when you first started.  Everyone has their own coping mechanism: complaining, skiving, working too hard, volunteering for difficult work, looking for something else, going sick…  I can remember being quite traumatised by one shake-up in the 1990’s which destroyed a team I was leading: out of eight of us no more than two were working together by the end, and our friends were scattered to the four corners of the universe (or so it seemed.)

And this is what I think goes unrecognised: the strain on those left behind when the dust settles.

Are you meant to be grateful you still have a job?  Are you supposed to be pleased that you have 50% more work?  Are you expected to feel smug that you managed to scrape a promotion from the chaos?

Hmm, well … do you though?

A while back, after a particularly thorough reorganisation of the company I then worked for, we had the pleasure of a visit from the inspectors not long after the final redundancies had been completed and everyone was just settling into the new work patterns.  I took a deep breath and suggested that it might be helpful to support those who had been chosen by the inspectors for interview by giving them some NLP training on rapport and techniques for staying calm.  Everyone had been through a lot and an inspection was not what we needed.

Somewhat to my surprise my suggestion was approved and I ran a series of workshops, and once I’d got beyond some people saying they thought I was there to brainwash them, they went well.  However something strange happened.

One woman, who I knew slightly from her coming to courses I had run, when practising what she might say to the inspectors, started to show up a really interesting speech pattern.  Talking about how the reorganisation had impacted her work she was extremely positive about the outcomes, but every response started:

“I have to say” or

“If I’m honest...”

This was out of character, so I stopped her and asked what the reluctance was about, thinking she was struggling with lying about what she really thought, but no: she really did think things were better post re-organisation, but to say so was a betrayal of all the people who had been made redundant.

It quickly became apparent that she was grieving for the friends she no longer worked with, and despite the fact that she still had a job, and in fact had benefited to the tune of a pay rise and a more convenient journey to work, she was deeply unhappy.

It seemed to me that there was  an element of survivor guilt coming into play.  I asked her whether any of the people she missed were still unemployed, to which the answer was no.  I asked her whether they were pleased for her that she had benefited from the reorganisation, and her answer was yes.

“Surely,” I said, “the fact that things are going well for you is something to celebrate?”

“Well, if I’m honest…”  she replied, but she was smiling.

So something to think about when the next reorganisation comes into view:  Take care of the people who are losing their jobs.  Take care of the people who are staying.  Go on taking care of them, give them a chance to express their concerns their grief, their guilt.  It can only be good for the organisation.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2010

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Why Lead? NLP for leaders: Metaprogrammes 1

First in a series of blogs based on the manual for the leadership course Why Lead?

Golda Meir

developed with Steve Boyden for Revolution-Evolution

To be or not to be is not a question of compromise.

Either you be or you don’t be.

Golda Meir

‘Metaprogrammes’ are the patterns that shape and influence the way we run our lives- often unconsciously.  For some people these are hugely important, and can be part of their value set – Doing things for others rather than for themselves for example.  For other people metaprogrammes can be situational and comparative.  Someone might choose similarity at home but be completely up for difference at work; and they may only appear to be working to a particular metaprogramme compared to others around them.  By noticing which patterns you tend to use, you can also start noticing them in other people.  This can help you know what will work as a pattern to help you influence and support your people as individuals, and also, if you are coming into a new organisation as a leader, what the culture of the organisation is.  The clues will be there.

By noticing which patterns are running, you have an opportunity to change them if you need to.

Similarity or Difference

Similarity:  matching.

This is a pattern that looks for what is there, rather than what is missing: what do we have in common, what fits with what I already know?

It is useful for emphasising agreement, and making connections (me too!).

If people are looking for similarity they will use words like: same, similar, maintain, match, continue, security.

Difference: mismatching.

This pattern looks for incongruity, things that don’t fit, or are missing.

It is useful for dealing with new and revolutionary ideas.

People who prefer difference will use words like new, changed, different, unique, radical, unusual, innovation.

More complex:

Just when you thought you’d got it sorted… some people use a mix, and will look for

What matches, and then consider how it is subtly different,


How something is different, but which similarities are preserved.

Strategy for Leadership

Example phrases to listen out for (there are many more!):

“That’s how we’ve always done it”, “If it’s not broken don’t fix it” (similarity)

“There has to be a better way”, “Get ahead of the game” (difference)

Similarity and difference are key if you are leading change.  If you have people who are resistant to change, for whatever reason, and are expressing similarity patterns, it is helpful to them to emphasise how some things will remain the same, rather than to go into raptures about how exciting the change is.

It is also worth paying attention to similarity/difference patterns when you are recruiting.  Do you want someone the same as the last post holder, or the same as you?  Or are you looking for a new or different angle, a fresh take, a radical solution…(Think about valuing diversity – it’s a classic difference pattern.)

copyright Cherry Potts, Change from Choice and Revolution-Evolution 2008-2010

watch out for metaprogrammes part 2 Towards and Away

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Silence- how is it used in Coaching?

This an extract from an exercise I did as part of my coaching course with ITS.  We explored what silence did for/to us, and how silence was different in different contexts.  I found it fascinating, and it really helped me focus on the how and why of my coaching style.

Being Silent in a room full of people who are also silent.

I am aware of where everyone is, and what they are doing; aware that I equate stillness with silence; what does silence mean to me generally?  Time to think, invent, fret (sometimes), relax, fret some more, invent some more.

Sometimes words just drop in from nowhere.  Silence creates a vacuum that sucks thought in.

Being Silent with one other silent person

I listen to his silence rather than my own, my ‘bubble’ encompasses him, it gets a little bigger and fits maybe a foot beyond each of us, and I can tune out other people.

Shared silence: four people

As with one other person, but larger and more intricate.  I can listen to the group silence, or each individual’s, they overlap and catch on each other like the scales in wool when you spin it.  Together the silence is stronger; there is an interaction even if we don’t look at each other.  It is like holding a shallow bowl full to the brim with water, in perfect balance.

a shallow bowl full to the brim

A shallow bowl full to the brim copyright C Potts 2010

Morning, just woken.

Cat at my elbow sodden with sleep moulded to me.  Silence here is about stretching, body and hearing, checking in, where is everyone, do I need to get up yet, and retracting, warmth, the cat, no rush.

45 minute Silence

I like silence, I really do, I work well in silence, but I can’t do nothing in silence, I fidget and I fret.  Actually thinking about it, I often sing while I’m working, so perhaps silence isn’t as literal as I think, and also, when not singing, I ‘think sing’ which I can do at the same time as thinking about something else, for instance right now, keep it light enough to travel is wafting about in there.

45 minute silence 2nd attempt

In the garden.  There are lots of birds singing, I try to differentiate them.  Nothing in the garden is still.  I count different shades of colour, ten minutes later I’m still finding new ones. So even though I know there are x number of different plants in flower at the moment, and I know there are loads of different greens in the leaves I don’t see all of them unless I look.

How does this inform my coaching?

Silence creates a vacuum that sucks thought in.

Sometimes words just drop in from nowhere.

I don’t see all of them unless I look.

By keeping silence (interesting, keeping silence, not keeping silent) I give space to the client to go beyond the planned rehearsed ‘bleeding obvious’ response, but the unexpected blurted out response is JUST as important- it hasn’t been edited to conform to some kind of expectation.  And I may find a metaphor dropping in for use if the content is too tricky.

The level of attention is directly proportionate to the input received, don’t listen don’t hear; don’t assume that because its similar= it’s the same (agenda/experience…);  can’t hear what’s being said if thinking about something else.

I listen to his silence rather than my own, my ‘bubble’ encompasses him, it gets a little bigger and fits maybe a foot beyond each of us, and I can tune out other people.

And if other people weren’t there, it would be more compact and even more attentive.  Because we hadn’t spoken, I was listening to the silence, not to my version of his possible thoughts.

They overlap and catch on each other like the scales in wool when you spin it.

This is a dancing in the moment.  Connection at a distance, respecting other people’s space, but making theirs and my own greater by the principle of community even when unspoken.  Not sure what I mean here, but I know when I feel it.

Together the silence is stronger; there is an interaction even if we don’t look at each other.  It is like holding a shallow bowl full to the brim with water, in perfect balance.

See above, but also the bowl of water is about not intruding, because it would get spilt.

Silence here is about stretching, (body and hearing,) checking in,

I didn’t mean mental stretching when I wrote this, but it is what I mean in a coaching context.

So a final thought: Silence is an activity in itself, which provokes thought, and sometimes action.

Copyright Cherry Potts 2007-2010

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The True Cost of Redundancy

Recently I’ve had several clients who have come to me because they are threatened with redundancy, or have recently been made redundant. (Yes, I know it’s the job that is redundant not the person, but I’ve yet to meet anyone experiences it like that).
While I wasn’t surprised at the number of people bringing redundancy as an issue in the current climate, what impressed me was that all of them were exploring what opportunity this new situation offered.
The questions being asked were:
What is possible now?
What do I want?
More like this or something new?
It has set me thinking about how employees facing redundancy cope or fail to cope, and why, and it reminded me of a workshop I ran a while ago, for people who had been out of work for a long time.

I had been running workshops for a while on interview skills and confidence and so on, and during a conversation with the commissioning client, we found ourselves wondering why, despite all the support the project gave people, so few had actually applied for jobs. I thought it might be a fear of the workplace itself (any workplace) that stops some people from applying for work, so we agreed as an experiment I would run a workshop entitled ‘Confidence in the workplace.’
I duly turned up and started assessing where the attendees were in terms of their confidence, and it was clear that everyone in the room shared a major anxiety. Eventually someone said that they had been made redundant twelve years ago, and they had never felt the same about work again. It turned out everyone in the room had, at some stage been made redundant. I put my planned course notes to one side.
“Me too,” I said. “I think this is something we should explore.”
We talked briefly about when and how redundancy had occurred for each of us, and what a blow it had been, even when we thought it was what we wanted.
The issues that came up were
Feeling de-valued and dis-empowered
Feeling betrayed
Feeling that we were not treated like real people
Feeling that there was no point in ever trying that hard at work again
People described the experience as:
Soul destroying
One person hadn’t had a ‘proper’ job since, feeling so worthless that he could not consider a job that used his considerable skills.

What do you do with a room full of people so distressed by something that happened (in some cases) a very long time ago?

I don’t know whether I’m right in saying this, but timeline has always seemed to me a very personal and private technique (perhaps because it is so effective), and doing it ‘in public’ a potential invasion of privacy, so I was thinking on my feet.

We aligned ourselves and I asked everyone to think of a time before his or her redundancy when everything was fine at work, and notice what it was that made it a good experience. I asked them not to say what those things were unless they wanted to, but to keep them in mind.
We picked up a few good examples for ourselves, and then in tandem, all together, we walked the timelines straight through the redundancy, and on to the present, holding on to the good things about work. I asked them to notice when they stepped over the redundancy, and to consciously keep walking, and notice they were walking away from it, and to keep going til they felt ok, and just notice where it was, in the past, right now, or the future?
This very simple exercise, which took under ten minutes, worked for all but one of the participants. He was deeply unhappy, and said,
“I feel like I’m carrying the weight of the world.”
Me: What is it you’re carrying?
Him: All the bad feelings of being made redundant, I can’t forget how badly it was handled and how bad I felt, I’m dragging it around with me.
Me: How heavy is it?
Him: It’s so heavy I can hardly move.
Me: What would it be like if you could handle the weight?
Him: That would help.
Me: So if it was the weight of… an elephant that would be too heavy?
Him: Yes, it needs to be lighter than an elephant.
Me: How much lighter?
Him: Like one of those medicine balls?
Me: That’s pretty heavy. How about a football?
Him: That would be good.
(All the while we have been moving very slowly away from where ‘redundancy’ was in his time line, and he has been holding himself more upright with each step.)
Me: Why stop there? What if it were an orange?
(He laughs and steps forward without me.)
Him: I can hardly feel it.
Me: A grape?
(He takes a huge step forward.)
Me: How if it was a grape pip?
(Without any prompting, he flicks an imaginary pip off his shoulder.)
Me: What was it you were carrying again?
Him: Wow. I never thought I could think differently about my past.

So, what is the true cost of redundancy?

If you are facing redundancy, try to look beyond to when things will be ok again, and that you are still the same talented unique individual you’ve always been, and any sensible employer will be only too glad to have you.
And what if you are the employer?
Are you about to ‘let some people go?’
You might want to think about the impact you can have, for good or ill. Redundancy can be a positive experience, handled right. Handled badly it can leave long-term scars in a person’s self-worth and confidence in their abilities.
So whatever the technicalities of making ‘jobs’ redundant we all need to remember it’s people that it happens to.

copyright Cherry Potts, Change from Choice 2010

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