To understand or not understand…….that is the question

One of the greatest gifts we can ever give another human being is to help them to feel genuinely understood, and we need to develop this skill for real performance management

Unfortunately, not many people feel understood

In fact, having met hundreds of thousands of people and worked extensively with thousands of them my coach once said at best 2% of those he met felt truly understood.

So it’s a rare thing

There is a Steven Covey quote from 7 habits:

“Seek first to understand before being understood”

Although commendable when it comes to understanding people there is one problem: We can’t give what we don’t have

If someone does not feel deeply understood themselves how can they possibly understand others? How can they even know what that feels like having never experienced it?

If you pay attention while having a conversation with people you will notice that many of them are simply waiting to speak, you will comment about something then they will carry right on talking about themselves – why do people do this?

Simple – they don’t feel understood – they don’t feel heard – they have NEVER felt heard – what they are communicating is an innate need to feel heard and understood.

So, a great many people do not feel understood themselves and if we do not feel understood ourselves we can’t hope to help others to feel understood, further more, if we don’t truly understand someone how can we possibly really listen to them? Impossible.

So as an organisation we have to build our capability to understand others, this requires two primary actions:

Teach people about behaviour, about their fear, about their victimhood, about their anger, about their need for praise or power or safety – and we have to teach them about how they can be irresponsible for example – all these things we must help people to understand.

Then we create an environment where they can share what they see about themselves, a place or opportunity where they can share their behaviours, flaws, mistakes, an environment where they can be……..well……..human

Yep, thats right, you happen to employ human beings, human beings who are, well, flawed – innately flawed.

And the only way they can feel truly heard and understood is if you can create opportunities for them to express…..well, who they are – human, flawed, and sometimes afraid or ashamed or angry or jealous.

Only by doing this do you then begin to create the capability within the organisation to listen and understand others.

A capability that is transformative and profound in its effect

A capability to grow emotionally intelligent people who understands what a colleague is saying when they walk into their office angry, who understands when they get defensive, when they lie, or hide, or run or cling.

Real behavioural change can only come from first understanding behaviour – if you employ humans and expect them not to be human you are doomed – this very expectation is at the heart of why they don’t feel understood – and do you think feeling mis-understood helps them to feel happy, contented, engaged, and safe to talk about their mistakes and flaws? Not a chance.

Engagement isn’t just a corporate communication plan, it’s real, genuine conversations at the coffee machine, between real people who understand you, and moments in time when you FEEL completely understood

And there is something special and rare about that

If you liked this post or think others can benefit from it, please like and share, or comment on what you learnt

If you want to address fear in your own life or in your workplace, get in touch

Have fun!


Yes, eye really do know……

Our eyes are like windows to our soul

If you pay attention all of the following can often be discerned just by looking at someones eyes:

I’m confused
I’m afraid
I don’t know what to do next
I’m shocked
I’m in my head thinking
I’ve emotionally withdrawn
I’m in pain
I feel worthless
I don’t trust you

I feel free
You can’t hurt me
I’m not afraid
I care about you
I can see you
I still care about you
I’m happy
I’m joyful
I’m alive
And many, many more

Our faces give off yet more information to support all of the above

It is possible to simply look at someone to establish that in that moment they feel alone, afraid, confused, and in pain

It is also possible to communicate lots of information without words:

I have sat opposite someone and they have looked into my eyes and have said the following to me without uttering a word:

“I understand”

“I understand how you feel, and why you feel like that”

“I understand that it can be difficult, and I am here for you, right now, and you are never alone”

Equally I have had similar conversations with people without uttering a word

In fact I had a conversation once with a lady who felt so seen, like someone understood her so deeply that she had to leave – nobody had ever understood her like that before – and in a bizarre way it felt most uncomfortable for her, understandably.

Everyone wants to feel understood and heard – and the use of words are by no means mandatory for either person in order for them to feel totally and completely understood, heard, and cared for.

That is a rare and touching event


Just imagine for one moment that you go to the coffee machine, a colleague is already there making their tea, you look at them, you can see they are in pain, struggling with something, you look straight at them and with a very slight nod you communicate that you understand. Just as you walk past them to get the milk you briefly touch them on the shoulder, communicating that 1. they are not alone and 2. you are there for them – they walk off, and as they do they glance back at you, you look at them and again you nod your head ever so slightly, reminding them that you understand and that you really are there for them.

All this happens in a few minutes

A genuine, real connection between two human beings

You saw them, you heard them, they knew you listened

And yet, nothing was said

It’s all they wanted, ultimately, it’s what we all want

If you want to address performance management and engagement in your business download my “short guide to The Pathway Principles”


Can you HEAR me??

My daughter Rubie (3) woke me up at around 3am the other night, she was calling from her bedroom

“What is it sweetie?”

“I can’t find my light daddy”

I sort her out and go back to bed, 20 minutes later……

“What is it sweetie?”

I made a mistake – I was irritated before I got in there

“I can’t find my do-do’s daddy, where are they?”

Note: do-do’s are any kind of comforter, we have just reduced the sizeable quantity that she seemed to have somehow collected – until she was going to bed with a small mound of material 🙂 !

“There are no more in your bed sweetie, you have everything that is here”

This could turn into a whole big debate about the quantity and availability of the world supply of do-do’s!

Then, having slightly woken up I realised what a dummy I was being – she may be talking about her do-do’s with her words but that is not what she is saying.

What she is saying is: “Daddy, I feel a bit afraid, I feel a bit alone”

I just held her tight for a few minutes

Then I reminded her that; I Love her, therefore, she has nothing to be afraid of, she has everything she needs, and she is never alone

She went straight off


We ALL suffer from patterns of behaviour that do not help us, keep us trapped, cause unhappiness and generally can be quite destructive – we just need to learn to SEE them and take responsibility for them

One of these behaviours for my business partner is asking clearly for what he wants

We might be talking about something in the business, maybe a new change or a new project and lets say I make a suggestion, he might then respond with a number of reasons why he feels there is a better solution, to which I respond…… can see where this goes

What we both discovered over time is that he sometimes finds it difficult to make a simple request for what he would prefer to happen – he disguises this by using logical and reasoned arguments – but often there just isn’t a “best way” there are different options with different consequences, benefits and drawbacks.

So I have learnt to listen to what he is saying

What I mean is when I notice this pattern I might simply stop the conversation and say: “Would you like to express what you would prefer to happen, out of personal preference”

“Yes” he says with a smile

He feels cared for by me in that moment – I took the time to learn about him, listen and hear what is is really saying


Rarely are people able to fully communicate how they really feel about something – in both of the above cases they were expressing fear – but were unable to either articulate or SEE that fear in the moment

Why is it that people find it so difficult to ask for what they want clearly? What is the problem?

Well, when they were Rubie’s age they probably made many hundreds of requests of their parents – and their parents, like my initial response when waking, was to do their best to shut them up so they will go to sleep – the onslaught of requests can be, well, impressive in volume – and it takes a lot for a parent to respond in a calm and balanced way EVERY time.

What normally happens is: “don’t be so stupid, get on with it”, “just go to sleep”, “what NOW!!” and many, many variations, but the child hears allot more than those words, they learn to associate emotional withdrawal with making requests, they begin to wonder, should I really ask? What response will I get? I don’t think I am worth it…..

And we end up, often, at fear

My business partner so smoothly deflects his desire to make a clear request that it took some time for me to SEE it – but over time it became more and more clear, and now, we can work on it together, just as we work on my stuff together.


What I am highlighting here is what REAL Listening looks like – we simply cannot do this without a much deeper understanding of behaviour – how can we really listen to people if we don’t even undertsand them?

Most people just want to be heard, they want someone to really understand them, to SEE them for who they really are.

I have done this many times – just sat, listening to someone, and suddenly they realise that I can SEE them, and I accept them, for their hiding and lying and manipulating, behind the cover up is a child that just wants to be accepted (loved) for who they really are, not who they are pretending to be

Many times have I also sat with people who just talk, and I am pretty confident that if I spoke Chinese half way through they would barely notice – and I’m not talking about the people that talk endlessly (clinging), I’m talking about the pretty average person, so wrapped up in their own emotional rubbish that there is simply no room for anything else – exactly like I was.

We don’t get to skip childhood, emotionally that is, until we have learnt to really undertsand and listen, having dealt with our own stuff we are practically emotional babies, gurgling and rolling around, pretty blind to what is really going on around us, only concerned about our immediate needs.

In todays world a good manager, one who listens, is someone who turns the phone off while you speak, but the reality is, that ain’t listening, not anywhere close.

How can people feel engaged if they don’t even know if someone even hears what they are saying? Impossible.

We have to teach people this stuff, and pretty urgently actually, if we want to make any kind of difference.

We ALL need it

The reality is, your people are practically screaming: Can you HEAR me??


Being Human……

It seems to me that one of the hardest lessons for us to learn is humility, it is for me anyway, I watched the film “12 years a slave” last week, and there is one scene that is quite brutal where a young lady, who had been abused by her owner throughout was strapped to a post and whipped until her back had deep open wounds.

What I saw was my own flaws in the slave owner, I saw that under the right conditions, brought up in the home he grew up in, could I have ended up doing such things?  I saw me in him and him in me.

I think humility is a deep sense of understanding of our flawed human nature, and subsequently knowing that this is the same for all of us, it cannot be escaped, only understood.

Some lessons in humility then:

To think I am better than someone else to discover the stark reality that I am not

To take advantage of another human being to make me feel powerful, to then have the tables turned and see my grave error

To take advantage of someone else’s situation for my own ends, only to see my shear selfishness later on

To assume that something I have attained, earned, or purchased makes me better than someone else

The more I learn and grow the more I realise just how much I have to learn, paradoxically there is great peace to be had from accepting our innate ignorance

Take a look at these lessons – these are the kind of lessons the slave “owners” may well have gone through themselves, to take absolute full advantage of another human beings position, to abuse it in the highest regard, in order to learn he had no right to do so, in order to be left alone, to tender his entire farm by himself and to die with the memories of what he did.

But here is the catch – we cannot really learn humility with depth without being flawed ourselves, we cannot learn humility without seeing our own innate weaknesses.

Those with real humility also have deep compassion for all of human kind, they forgive others for their ignorance, because they recognise their own ignorance and flawed nature.

What consequence does this have for us today and in our workplace?

Allot actually – as we learn to look for and see our own mistakes, bad behaviour, bad choices, shear irresponsibility, and selfishness it humbles us, it teaches us not to be so self righteous, not to condemn and judge but to look at others with compassion and understanding.

So when one of your team does something profoundly stupid, when they behave in destructive ways, when they lie, and cheat, when they cover things up and manipulate for their own ends you would look at them through new eyes, as if you had been re-born, and you know what – they will FEEL that, when they come to you, mistaken and stupid, and you accept them simply for being human, you offer them a gift, a beautiful gift, you offer them a chance to be human, flawed, stupid, and accepted for who they really are, not who they pretend to be, and a chance to change, to learn and to grow

When you let your people be human and learn about then admit their mistakes openly something incredible happens, they begin to walk together with a sense of kinship you could never imagine

When we suppress the bad, through shame or ignorance we compromise the good, however when we can be ALL that we are we can be truly at our best, therefore you unlock all the things that make your people great, creativity, fun, joy, compassion, innovation, determination, and actually, their flaws by accepting all of them not just the good bits

We are making mistakes ALL the time, this stuff isn’t about waiting for your performance review, it’s about learning and growing each and every day, at the coffee machine, over lunch, and certainly when you get home

This is the beating heart that drives REAL engagement in your teams

If you want to develop and empower your team in profound ways, if you want to be the change, then take action and get in touch

What I am teaching my 4yo that could turn people management upside down

I have an 18month old and a 4 year old, and I now dedicate huge amounts of my personal time and energy into loving and teaching them about their behaviours and choices – why? Because they NEED it.

Before I did the work on myself I used to get agitated, frustrated, annoyed and angry when my then 3 year old misbehaved, anyone with kids, especially small ones will know how hard it can be.

Let’s be frank – they can sometimes be very inconvenient, they get in the way of your agenda for the day, they get in the way of getting to school on time, they create mess, they want to do things that takes effort on our part, they want us just when we need to sit down for 5 minutes, they argue with siblings, wind each other up, scream, dig, bang, run around the house, it’s relentless.

It is so very very easy to bark at them to stop, or to dismiss their requests for your time and energy and actually for most of us the best we can manage is to just react in the moment to what is going on.

But I learnt the error of my ways, and I learnt about the damage I was doing every time I got angry and shouted at them or dismissed them – once I learnt about that I then saw it in all its glory – at 3 I was already creating negative and destructive behaviours in my baby girl that knows no better – she would blindly live with these all her life.

Now I dedicate myself to learning more each day, I get it wrong, mess up, still get agitated – but now I OWN it, I don’t blame her for my agitation I sit and calmly explain that she IS NOT the cause of my agitation, and when someone gets angry with her it says more about them than it does about her, and at 4 years old, she really does understand.

Rather than getting angry I now apply consequences, delivered without frustration, simply to help her learn and grow

Why is this so important? When she goes to school, goes to work, gets into a relationship, she won’t really experience personal emotional pain when someone verbally attacks her – because she will have learnt from a very young age – it’s about them not her.

What freedom is this? To be free of fear about what others think of you? Name someone you know who can say this about themselves, I bet you can’t – or they may say so, does not make it true, invariably, there WILL be someone.

Additionally I have seen a significant and noticeable difference in her behaviour, how she interacts with her sister in particular, she is gentler, more caring, less agitated, she accepts consequences that are imposed without much upset, and generally she seems happier and really content within herself.  We recently drove for four hours on a motorway with both kids in the back, with no drama, and no upsets – it was great fun.

What are the consequences of not teaching this to my baby girl? When she grows up and someone attacks her verbally she will react out of pain, for example she may well attack back to protect herself, the other person may well then do the same again, each time they will elaborate the truth to make them more right and the other more wrong, and both will end up in conflict and lies – both leading to unhappiness.

This type of thing is going on ALL THE TIME!!

So it’s really important to me that I teach her the truth: You are responsible for how you behave and they are responsible for how they react.

Another consequence was that even by age 4 she was beginning to lie and hated taking responsibility for what she had done, she would lie when she had “done something wrong” and blame her sister – I had created this! My 4 year old was already afraid of my disapproval of her – AT 4!

I now have to demonstrate with my behaviour over and over, and teaching her over and over that she does not need to be afraid, and that even when she does do something “wrong” or “bad” that does not make her a “bad” person.  This one lesson would make the difference between lots of future emotional pain, and REAL happiness.

I, like many others was/am (to a significant lesser degree) afraid of dis approval – we find as adults that when we bring this out into the light it starts to dissolve – like ice to the sun.

So, what are the implications of this in business?

Significant, very significant.

1. When you work on development plans and succession planning there is an assumption that the base personality traits are fixed ie anger, praise seeker, afraid to challenge others etc etc – this is not true.  What you see is actually a representation of what each individual has learnt and experienced – nobody is born with anger – all negative traits can be undone – that fundamentally changes all development and succession planning the world over

2. There is little understanding about human behaviour – when we demonstrate our dis-approval, even with a look, we are tapping straight into old emotional wounds – people FEEL this – both you and them will experience this blindly – NOBODY will be at their best, or perform their best while this goes on

3. There is very little if any common understanding about Fear, what it is, how it manifests itself, and more importantly how to eradicate it

4. You cannot combat anger with anger, and fear with fear – when you get angry or frustrated (however slight) it may appear to create action or movement – this is temporary, anger does have energy, but ultimately it’s destructive

5. Typically negative behaviour is dealt with by using more negative behaviour – it is judged, people are judged – know that they are simply reacting to what they were taught – it’s a self re-enforcing paradigm

6. There is a monumental waste of talent because of the assumption made in 1.

7. There is HUGE waste created, that, if this work is applied will slowly disappear

8. The changes effect people’s lives – the benefits are far more reaching than the workplace

9. Stress is widely accepted as the biggest cause of absence – stress can be eliminated in those that do the work

10. Employee engagement is widely accepted as a significant driver of people performance – this work will influence engagement in more ways than anything else you can do – if people FEEL cared for, they would work for less money and from a shed (not that we would do that 😉 )

11. Fear cripples the ability of the business to truly learn and grow, just like my baby girl

12. Over time, the language of the workplace will be that of truth, you will not be able to blame your negative behaviour on external causes, we must take responsibility for it and doing so actually creates and supports personal happiness

13. The lies slowly disappear, or stick out like a sore thumb

14. I am just a “normal” guy with “normal” kids bringing them up “normally” – this is the problem – negative behaviour is so very “normal” it’s accepted as part of life – we were not born angry praise seeking victims and we don’t need to be either – just look around you, it is everywhere.  We do not need to live with it any longer.

So – I am learning all the time how to demonstrate with my behaviour that my little baby girls are important, incredibly important, bar my wife there is NO thing that will come before them and what they need, it takes almost constant work on my part to get myself out the way, to stop selfishly concerning myself about what I want.  Ultimately this is what every human being the world over wants to FEEL, they want to FEEL like we care about them, really care – you give them this and they will reward you in ways you could never imagine – not that you expected to be, “engagement” is simply a measure of how much people care, well, its time we walk first.

So you see – what I am teaching my 4 year old has far reaching lessons to business and the workplace, and I’d be happy to share this with you any time so you too can benefit as I have.

If you want to learn more about human behaviour contact me at