Voodoo in relationships

When performance is a performance

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How many times have you seen someone desperately trying to be something they’re not, whilst running themselves into the ground? Are you guilty of this?

Although pretending to be someone or something you’re not, as a creative pursuit, (think theatre), can be both challenging and good fun, it doesn’t always win you awards off stage.

As the great anonymous Vood-arian once said;

The greatest advantage of speaking the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said.

The belief that you should ‘fake it until you make it’, is alive and well for plenty of people. If your behaviour is a constant performance, it could get exhausting. When you then revert to type it could also land you with some trust issues.

So why do we do it?

There are so many reasons that we put on a performance; trying to protect ourselves or others from hurt for example, or believing it is necessary to get ahead. As none of us are perfect, there’s also our ‘dark side’ that might need to be kept in check. (Anyone denying it?)

This week I am encouraging you to review your own level of performance when performing the various roles in your life to make sure you’re getting the balance right between ‘mask’ and ‘me’.

Question 1 – When do I perform?

Honestly and without judgement, can you think of any situations recently where you put on a bit of a performance?

Maybe you were exaggerating a bit, or consciously choosing to play down your opinion or play up your skills? Perhaps you tried to look enthusiastic when you felt the opposite or suppressed your true feelings?

Question 2 – Would it win a People Voodoo award? 

There may be times when a performance is the most humane approach. A hurt child needs reassurance. Blatantly ‘faking’ that everything is OK might be just what they need until they get patched up and calm down.

Putting on the same kind of show for your boss when asked for a project update could get messy.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to assess when it’s best to drop the mask, or at least lift it up a bit.

  • Do I know when I’m doing it?
  • Why am I performing?
  • Is that a good enough reason?
  • Is everyone in this situation being treated with dignity and respect?
  • Is anyone, including me, going to get hurt now or in the future because of it?
  • If I had to sustain this kind of performance longer term, could I keep it up without exhausting myself?
  • Is this a skill I am working on that will feel less like a performance when I get better at it?
  • Does it feel dishonest?
  • Would those whose opinion I value, see it as dishonest?
  • What would happen if this came to light?
  • Is there another way to get the same result without performing?

As so often in my blogs, this exercise is all about self-awareness. Once you have the awareness, when and how much you perform is entirely up to you of course.

Um… I think maybe I need help

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A few days ago I was asked some challenging questions. One of them was this:

What do you do to support yourself during difficult times?

I knew the answer.

Do you?

I know, not because I am somehow emotionally more robust or superior than other people, but because I’ve had practice, LOTS of practice.  My husband and I are currently blinking into the light at the end of the adoption tunnel, where these sorts of questions are the norm rather than the exception. When you get asked often enough, and are expected to know the answer, it focuses the mind.

Although there is no perfect, one size fits all, answer to this question, some answers are definitely more People Voodoo than others. “I don’t do emotions, thanks” doesn’t cut the mustard, nor does, “I just eat chocolate”, “I hide under the duvet” or “I take the next flight out of here”. Not that there is anything wrong with self control, chocolate, a nap or a holiday, but not for every size of problem. None of those are a healthy longer term strategy when the issues are emotionally overwhelming, complex or multiple and others are relying on you.

Life does like to offer up surprises, and not always in the form of a chocolate egg with a toy inside, (note to self about the second reference to chocolate) so it’s good to know if your support mechanisms are robust before the storm strikes.

As today is as good a day as any to mull it over, I thought this week I’d pose 3 questions you could ask yourself about your own needs and support systems.

Question 1: Do you know what your emotional needs are?

If you are lucky, your emotional needs have mostly been met in your life and you’ve not had to give this much thought. Do you know for example if you need regular hugs to feel loved and supported, or time alone, or time together, or to be told you are loved, or to be made cups of tea? If you could only have one of those, what would you prioritise? If you were suddenly forced to choose, could you live without the hug or the being told you are loved?

If you don’t know what you need or you instinctively know but you can’t quite explain it, I recommend the 5 love languages, as a good starting point. This is also great for trying to work out the needs of others you care about so that you can support them.

Question 2: Do you express or suppress emotion?

When emotion strikes, do you go with the emotion or try to contain it? I went to boarding school, where at that time, the solution to homesickness or upset was to be strong and keep busy. It has taken me many years as an adult to break this habit of suppressing emotion by denial and distraction; the pretending I’m fine, working late or cleaning the house rather than just getting angry or upset. Emotions are definitely better out than in and serve a stress relieving purpose (yes, there’s evidence).  20 Things To Say To Your Child Instead Of “Don’t Cry” is a great way to make sure children learn to accept and manage emotions. This article might be aimed at parents but I’ve tested it on adults and it works just as well on us too.

Question 3: Do you put all your eggs in one basket?

Now think about the last 3 emotional challenges you’ve faced (relationship break-up, bereavement, badly delivered feedback, job loss, health issue etc) and how you handled them.

  • How soon if at all did you ask for help to process feelings or thoughts?

If you did ask for help:

  • Who did you ask?
  • How did you make your choice? Did you have choices?
  • If that person wasn’t available suddenly, where would you go?
  • How big would it need to be, or how bad would it need to get before you seek professional help? and then do you know where to look?

It was only a few days ago but I can’t remember exactly what answer I gave to What do you do to support yourself during difficult times? I imagine that acknowledging and expressing feelings rather than letting things build up was in there somewhere. Sharing with others and getting professional advice as early as possible also featured, as did accepting help.

Oh, and chocolate!

 

 

Are you believing without really seeing?

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Did you know that the police now catch more criminals with CCTV than with DNA? According to a BBC documentary,  CCTV footage is increasingly being used to link multiple crimes, and catch criminals. Not everyone thinks surveillance is a great idea of course, as CCTV conjures up images of George Orwell’s  1984, where ‘Big Brother’ watches our every move, BUT the concept of the watchful eye might just help you practice People Voodoo.

Imagine if you looked at all situations as if through CCTV; if you could switch off your emotion, personality, life experience, values or upbringing and just capture the raw facts before carefully drawing conclusions.

Unlike Agatha Christie’s fictional Hercule Poirot, who painstakingly applies the ‘little grey cells‘ to the situation before unveiling a murderer, most of us are a little more fast food than slow cooker about judging others. Let’s face it, we don’t often have the time to challenge our own conclusions or check the accuracy of our assumptions.

‘He attends a meeting without saying a word’ quickly becomes ‘he’s not very confident’ and ‘she re-reads her e-mails several times’ translates to  ‘she’s obsessive’.

When you strip back to what can be seen on CCTV and then try applying alternative motives to the behaviours and events you see, judgement turns to curiosity and you become a people detective. At work this curiosity could mean the difference between a complementary working relationship or one riddled with misunderstandings and conflict.

If for example, I type quickly and struggle with proof reading my own work, then a colleague with high attention to detail has the potential to be my worst enemy or my closest ally. I’d probably have a good working relationship with them if they don’t want me to make a fool of myself and offer to help me by having a quick look. I’d be less likely to value them as a colleague if I heard them openly comment that ‘typos are just a sign of laziness’ seconds before sending me an e-mail pointing out my typo on page 3.

If this is an area of People Voodoo that you’d like to hone, here is something to get you practising.

Activity – Get behind the camera (not literally!)

Step 1 – Like a CCTV camera, become a keen observer of what people do and how they do it. Later, review your own mental footage and be careful to separate what actually happened from what you think, feel or presume to know about why. It takes some practice.

Example: Matilda arrives 5 minutes late for the 9am team meeting 4 Mondays in a row. When she does arrive, she enters quickly, keeping her head down, and takes a seat at the back.

Step 2 – Notice if your reaction is one of judgement or is open and curious. If it is judgemental, try to come up with some alternative options.

Example:

Option 1 – Judgement

Matilda has terrible timekeeping, isn’t committed to the job and doesn’t respect everyone else’s commitments.

Option 2  – Open minded and curious

There is a reason that Matilda is late every Monday. I don’t know why. I wonder why that happens. e.g.

  • Matilda’s contract doesn’t start until 9.30 but she makes an effort to get here early on a Monday for this meeting and doesn’t want to disrupt the meeting.
  • Matilda has an 8am meeting at the other end of the building and this is the fastest she can get here, because they always run over.
  • Matilda is nervous about these meetings because there is someone in the room who bullies her. It takes her the best part of 10 minutes to build up the courage to come and she feels really awkward when she arrives late but tries to hide it.

 

Just Remember – Observing or asking yourself questions doesn’t improve your working relationships, in the same way that watching CCTV doesn’t catch criminals. You do need to take action. Try starting with a simple question, e.g  I see we both attend the 9am meeting but never sit next to eachother. How does that happen?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 ways to avoid empathy slip-ups

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Communicating with people who have a different outlook on or approach to life can be simultaneously challenging and rewarding. We’ve all met people we just gel with and empathise with more easily, and others we find more tricky.

I’ve spent many years helping individuals and groups become more aware of their own style and how it affects and can be adapted to improve their relationships with others. Along the way, I’ve witnessed many situations where the best of intentions led to misunderstandings, slip-ups, bad feelings and fallouts.

Always on the lookout for ways to help people be more empathetic and understand each other better, I was genuinely pleased when social media became flooded with lists of ‘5/10 things you should to know about….’ There’s really nothing better than a bullet point, whistle stop tour through the inner workings of a group of like-minded people to help raise awareness.

I’ve read every list that’s come my way, from ‘Things you should know about people with tattoos’ to ‘Things you should know about mothers that decide not to breast feed’ and there is some pretty useful stuff out there.

Sadly, as with all communication, this list writing can also present a communication ‘banana peel’ to slip up on. Slip-ups I’ve come across have included;

  • writers venting their frustrations at being misunderstood, whilst setting unrealistically high expectations of the people around them, with apparently little intention of adapting their own approach.
  • writers sharing stories of sadness and grief, and whilst asking for greater empathy of their situation, inadvertently or sometimes more directly, suggesting that their pain is somehow superior to the pain of others.

Even if you practise People Voodoo it can be hard to empathise with someone who throws accusations, downplays or belittles your own experiences or expects all the effort to come from you.

And yet, empathy is so incredibly important to good relationships, so here are 3 ways to build your empathy muscle to help avoid empathy slip-ups.

1.Try to separate the behaviour from the intention

Intentions are about who we are, behaviours are about how we are.

Yes, of course how we behave matters, and destructive behaviour needs to be challenged, but before you judge a person entirely on their behaviour, try to see the intention behind it. It is possible that they either don’t have the emotional resources or communication skills to express their intention in a more positive way.  Some well timed, tactfully constructed feedback might be all they need.

2 Be fair with the way you give your empathy

Not everyone shows feelings in the same way, and context and pressure can play havoc with our approach to expressing our feelings.

The person crying the hardest isn’t necessarily the one hurting the most. In fact, someone who has been brought up to look ‘strong’ might intentionally appear emotionless but, shaken up like a can of fizz, they will later explode to release that tension.

With your People Voodoo hat on, try to give your empathy and support equally, regardless of how feelings are expressed. The phrase, ” I can see you are finding this hard” can be appropriate to someone who is shouting or someone in floods of tears.

3.Be prepared to pay for breakages

Emotions are like crystal glasses. If you are going to get them out more than just on special occasions, (and you really should), then you can expect a few breakages along the way. It’s easily done. A scratch here, a chip there.

Be willing to accept your mistakes, apologise and try again, And be bold enough to expect that of others too.

You won’t get it right every time, but don’t let that stop you trying.

 

 

 

Have you felt an electric touch?

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When is the last time you were touched by someone? Was it powerful?

How much ‘being touched’ by people you hardly know would you say is acceptable? necessary? or even desirable?

Does the idea of being touched at work, electric or not, make you feel just a little bit uncomfortable or do you secretly hope that this blog is your ticket to becoming electric?

I wonder if your view changes when I define ‘being touched’ like this;

‘When something happens that moves you to emotion; when you feel affected or emotionally stirred’

Touch can be physical. It can be wonderful, especially the romantic variety, but rightly gets some pretty bad press if it’s inappropriately used or is non consensual.

Touching people emotionally is just as powerful and can be much longer lasting than physical touch. It can trigger passionate anger or deep compassion. It can be the making or breaking of a great relationship, creating the intimacy needed to build trust or demolishing years of hard work.

I can remember so many occasions in my life where a word or a gesture stirred extremely powerful emotions in me.

As Maya Angelou so beautifully put it;

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Maya Angelou

How do you make people feel?

NEWS FLASH!!! If your ‘anti-fluff’ alarm has gone off, then let me reassure you that this may be about emotion but it’s not at all fluffy. It’s actually rock solid. It’s about emotionally intelligence; the capacity to acknowledge, manage and express emotion in your relationships with others appropriately, and it is critical to relationship success.

Practicing People Voodoo is about being an opportunist; seizing big and small opportunities to connect with others in an authentic and meaningful way, so emotional intelligence is very close to my heart.

If you’ve been told that you have a natural ability to connect with people then you have a real gift. Congratulations, use it well! If not, then don’t worry, because emotional intelligence is something you can learn and develop. You just need to work out a bit, to build your emotional muscle.

So today, let’s start at the beginning – with the senses!

One of the biggest barriers to connecting with others is being unable to connect with yourself; acknowledging your own emotions and what stirs them.

I know that when I feel hurt, it’s a if someone has grabbed my heart and squeezed it and for a split second I can’t breathe. Then a red hot surge in my chest, like a ball of hot lava, rushes from my chest up my neck and to my eyes, whilst the rest of my body feels heavy and numb like it’s encased in concrete.

Even though I can feel anger and love just as strongly, they feel physically very different.

Your turn.

  • What do emotions feel like in your body? Can you describe them?
    • Does your breathing become faster and more shallow or slower and deeper
    • What is your heart doing?
    • Do you feel any heat anywhere? or any tension?
    • Is it more of a thud or a whooshing?
  • How do the sensations change between being excited or angry, proud or frustrated, happy or afraid?
  • What situations stir emotion in you?
    • Do you know the triggers?
  • Who do you know who has an electric touch?

People Voodoo is about being kind to yourself, so please resist the temptation to judge what you find. Every sensation is an important message to be listened to. Anger and fear serve a purpose, it’s what you do next that matters.

For the next few days why not spend some time fully experiencing your emotions in all their electric glory.

I’ll be back for more about reading emotions in others another day. Remember to sign up to get People Voodoo via email if you don’t want to miss it.

 

 

Mind the gap

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Do you think others  find you worthy of trust?

How easily do you trust others?

If you practice People Voodoo, the issue of trust is probably as close to your heart as it is to mine. A relationship without trust can be a very lonely and uncomfortable one. To reduce that suffering we need to understand how trust works and how to bridge the gaps in trust.

Charles H. Green’s  Trust Equation is a brilliant starting point.

 

Trust = (credibility   x  reliability   x  intimacy) / self-orientation.

 

Let’s take a closer look.

  • Credibility is all about words; what we say.
    • Do you sound like you know what we are talking about? Are you knowledgeable and consistent in what you say? or do you wing it?
  • Reliability is all about our actions. 
    • Do you do what you say you’ll do? Can you be depended upon? or do you fail to follow through?
  • Intimacy is about security and emotion.
    • Are you confidential? Do others find it comfortable to share information with you? or are you known to embarrass others or leak information?
  • Self-orientation is about focus.
    • When you are focused on achieving your own goals do you still consider those around you? or does it appear to be all about you?

What is most humbling is the power of self-orientation to win or damage trust. Even if you scored 10 out of 10 on credibility, reliability and intimacy  (10 x 10 x 10 = 1000),  a reputation for having high self-orientation (10) can wipe out 90% of your good work. (1000/10 = 100).

Mathematics to one side, we intuitively know that it is easier to trust those who have our best interests at heart, even if they are occasionally late, or pretend to know more than they really do in the pub quiz.

This week, to practice some People Voodoo, why not focus your attention on closing some trust gaps.

  1. Be open and honest about what you know and consistent in the input you give.
  2. Check what you are committing to, ensuring you do not over-commit and under deliver, with deadlines or offers of time.
  3. Consider how you invite and treat information offered to you, whether that’s the way you handle paperwork or how loudly you speak in a public place.
  4. Ensure that you are demonstrating a genuine interest and concern for others.

And last but not least, if you are able to do so humanely, why not let someone else know what they could be doing to earn your trust.

 

 

Are you there? It’s me, messenger.

When we think about enjoying good quality conversation, how many of us think that messaging on social media fulfills that need?

Although technology can bring People Voodoo and its benefits to so many more people than word of mouth could ever have done, the process needs to be a positive experience. We need to be as humane armed with a computer as we would be face to face. We can certainly give our wording plenty of thought but what about the practical side to communicating over the internet?

In this 15 minute TED talk, Tristan Harris, co-founder of the movement for “Time Well Spent”, offers some thought provoking insights into communication and technology. People Voodoo loves the way he encourages designers to bring more values and consideration to computer based conversations.

 

A change is like a…

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If the saying is true and a change is like a holiday, then the UK leaving the EU is like a two week break in the Maldives!

Maybe not.

In reality, change can be hard, especially when it is forced upon us. Actually, it can feel like a real punch in the face.

Why? Because it’s emotional. It’s about loss.

We need to go deeper than facts and process to help each other navigate change. This means there is plenty of opportunity to apply People Voodoo.

Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross gave her view on this topic as far back as 1969. She may have worked with the terminally ill, but when she concluded that we experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance in loss situations, she might as well have been describing the effects of the EU referendum.

Denial

This is the shock stage where we think there must be a mistake. Maybe votes have not been counted, the screen hasn’t refreshed. Of course, if it’s all over Facebook and every news channel, then denial doesn’t last long. If it does, then People Voodoo would recommend to allow a bit of time for it to sink in. If it helps to check the facts, do it. If it helps to repeat it several times, do that. This is a normal response to loss, it takes as long as it takes. 

Anger

Another reaction to change is to question why. Frustrated, we seek out the reason or the source of the problem which can result in blaming; people or events. We might be angry with those who voted differently, those we think lied or those who use it as an opportunity to pedal their own agenda. We might be angry with ourselves for being taken in, for being complacent and letting this happen, or for making the wrong decision.

Before we judge, and expect others to accept things and move on, it is worth considering how accepting we are being. Anger is a normal response to loss. Someone who is grieving is suffering, even if it comes out as anger. Where People Voodoo can help, is with being respectful to others in the messages we put out during this time. Anger is not equal to aggression. It is possible to honour the anger without doing harm to ourselves or others.

Bargaining

This is a negotiation or compromising stage. For People Voodoo this is the perfect time for listening. What is being bargained about, tells us what is really at the root of the suffering. We can’t go back to life before an event (yet), but there may be other options for going forward. If someone tries to bargain for what you believe to be a lost cause, just remember, this is a normal response to loss. Listen and help them work through the arguments or options, there may be something there to work with.

Depression

This is the ‘what’s the point’ stage. The sadness. This is a normal response to loss and maybe the one we most easily associated with it. We may become recluse, stop engaging in the discussion and disassociate ourselves, emotionally or physically. The People Voodoo approach here is one of being available as a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear, offering and encouraging kindness to ourselves and others.

Acceptance – not to be confused with feeling OK about it all!

This the point where we can start to prepare for what is to come. People who feel they have suffered a loss won’t suddenly feel happy about it, and we can’t expect them to. What acceptance gives people is the space to plan ahead, without anger or sadness dragging them back. People Voodoo is all a bout getting here as fast as possible.

What about you?

What was your reaction to a recent change? Are you one of the lucky ones who flies past the other stages on the way to acceptance? Are there changes that you accept more easily than others? How are they different to the ones you struggle with? If you do get stuck in any of the stages, where do you stay the longest? Why do you think that is? How do you move yourself on?

Change will certainly feel more like a holiday if we can all get to acceptance faster with minimal time spent suffering on the way.

 

 

 

 

Voting and Voodoo

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As a UK resident it would be a lost opportunity not to apply People Voodoo to today’s referendum result. No politics here, just Voodoo.

As the drama continues to unfold across the country, there are happy and angry outbursts, accusations and upset. Facebook is awash with joy and jubilation, fear and frustration. Shock has gripped millions.

Voting on a subject that is about identity is never as simple as win or lose. Many of those who lost the vote are grieving the future they feel has been taken from them, and as often is the case with grief, are lashing out at those who won. The winners are being accused of ruining lives, and hurt by the attacks, are snapping back or gloating.

There is suffering all around, win or lose; people being washed along by the raging river of shock, change and uncertainty.

Luckily, there are also those who never jumped or fell into the river, or who have quickly managed to pull themselves back out. They have seized the opportunity to apply some People Voodoo to those still caught in the rapids; helped them climb out, thrown them a lifeline. They have offered respectful congratulations to those who won, empathy and kindness to those who have lost.

There is an opportunity here to practice kindness. It is especially hard to be kind to each other when we are grieving or under attack, but it’s the time that we all need it the most.

 

 

I swear, it really hurts!

man-stress-male-faceHow do you feel about swearing?

Not the ‘making a solemn promise under oath’ kind of swearing. The offensive language, cursing, or using profanities kind of swearing.

People Voodoo seeks to reduce suffering, so you’d think that swearing would be on the list of things to avoid, but it’s not. If used wisely, swearing can actually be good for you!

If you take a dim view of swearing, or feel generally uncomfortable about, or around swearing, then please be reassured that People Voodoo does not promote swearing as a daily activity. There is however value in it for remedial purposes.

There is evidence that swearing helps you feel less pain. Yes, in the name of science volunteers put their hands in icy water and if they were allowed to swear, it reduced their pain experience compared to those who were only allowed to use neutral words. But look out, if you overuse swearing, the benefit reduces. It’s only effective in moderation.

So, regardless of how you feel about swearing, there is an opportunity to apply People Voodoo to a swearing situation. Try asking yourself:

Is this a physically or emotionally painful situation where someone is using swearing to manage their pain?

  • If yes – does the person need help to reduce suffering, and can you help?
  • If no – what’s really going on? maybe this is  a swear-oholic who might benefit from some People Voodoo.
    • Before you rush in, just be prepared that they might not want your @!!*%’! opinion.

And when you next stub your toe, grab the opportunity to be kind to yourself and swear!

If you think any of this sounds challenging, here is a reminder that progress does not happen overnight.  A ‘hole’ lot of progress.