Thursday, November 15, 2018

How to get the Most of people by understanding and activating their strengths - Practical Wisdom for Busy People Episode 5

Today I am going to share with you an idea that will help you get the most out of people.

So – are  you completely happy with how you interact with everyone in your family and at work?  Is there any scope for improvement?

If so, here’s an  true story  which I still find rather enlightening.

Years ago I worked with someone, let’s call him Tom, who was in most ways a really nice guy -  except for one thing.

It was part of our  office culture to make rounds”of tea  for each other. Now Tom liked   his tea as much as the next person. He was a very willing beneficiary of the  system. Months passed yet Tom had never made tea for anyone else. He was a free rider.  After a while we started to notice and whispers began  about whether we should stop making tea for Tom. He appeared completely  oblivious to this resentment. He wanted to do as much work as he could and would probably have said he was far too busy to make a round of tea

One day this all of this changed when the technical whizz-kid in our team devised an on-line system which recorded tea rounds. You scored a point for every tea you made. You lost a point for every tea that was made for you.  You would be plus or minus depending on how many rounds you made

Obviously, after a day or two, Tom was bottom of the league table, Once his lowly league position was brought to Tom’s attention, a dramatic change took place. Whereas before it had seemed as if Tom knew neither the location of the kitchen or the tea tray, now he and the tray were seldom parted.

Tom made two or three rounds every day and  before long he leapt to the top of the tea-makers table.

A key question. What do you think was Tom’s dominant strength?  You guessed it, Competitiveness.

The moral? If you want to change someone’s behaviour, think about their strengths and how to activate them. Once Tom’s competitiveness strength was activated, his behaviour changed dramatically and in a positive direction

This works  with other strengths too
If his strength had been leadership, we could have put him in charge of finding a fair system for making tea.
If it had been kindness, we could have framed making a cup of tea as a random act of kindness to brighten up his colleagues’ day.

I’m sure you You get the idea. If you want to know more about strengths, have a  look at Chapter 4 of my book Achieve Your Potential With Positive Psychology or  visit the via website at

One final thought. This absolutely is not about manipulating other people for your own benefit, its about finding solutions that work best for you and them.
It’s about finding  what the legendary self-help writer Stephen Covey called win-win solutions.Tom benefited - he enjoyed being top of the table. And we all enjoyed the tea he made. It was a win-win.

So why not when spend a few minutes  now thinking about the strengths of someone you interact. It could be a family member, it could be a work colleague. 
Then spend  a moment or two thinking about their strengths. What are they good at? What are their character strengths? Which strengths energise them?

Finally, reflect on how you can activate their strengths perhaps by redesigning or reframing a task.

We got the most out of Tom by activating his strength. Who can you turn from villain to hero?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

How to Create Meaningless Work - Practical Wisdom for Busy People Episode 4

Today’s episode is all about how to create meaningless work

Seriously, what could you do to make  someone’s work utterly pointless?
Think about the worst managers you have had. What did they do to make you dread going into work?
I asked this question to my Positive Psychology students at City University in London this week. I can’t recall a more animated discussion.
I’ll tell you my students’ answers later.  First let’s hear what the research has to say
 Catherine Bailey and Adrian Madden researched meaning in work and concluded that there are 7 Deadly Sins to steer clear of.  They  interviewed 135 people working in 10 very different occupations ranging from lawyers to garbage collectors. This is what they found.
The first and gravest sin is to disconnect people from their values. Force them do things they know are wrong.  So imagine that  you are boss trying to promote a product  that  worsens pollution.  To commit this first and worst deadly sin all you have to do is ask a  climate change campaigner  in your team to lie about the benefits of this product
Taking your employees for granted is the second sure way to reduce meaning in the workplace This one’s easy. Just never say good morning to your staff even if you are in the same lift . Also, remember  never  to  thank them even when they’ve worked hard to achieve an important milestone.
Deadly sin number three is to give people pointless work to do. This a no-brainer. All you need to do is arrange long meetings, have agenda items which are pretty irrelevant to most attendees, and  then decide nothing. If you do decide something, make sure you don’t follow it through. A pretty meaningless waste of time, don’t you agree?
The fourth deadly sin is to treat people unfairly. You will get ample opportunity to do this comes to pay-rise season. Give a pay rise to someone who is good at being friendly to management but bad at their job. That should do it.
Overriding people’s better judgement is the fifth way to make work meaningless. Give people targets they can  reach only by cutting corners.
Sin  number 6 is to disconnect people from supportive relationships.  Make sure your staff work on their own, especially if they are inexperienced. Don’t bother to give then any training.
The seventh deadly sin according to Madden and Bailey is to put people at risk of physical or emotional harm. Come winter time  turn all the heating off and you can achieve this goal and save some money at the same time!

My students argued convincingly that there are other good ways to prevent work from being meaningful. Find fault in everything, Say no to positive suggestions. Say one thing then  do another. Remove interesting challenges  These are all extra ways tht you can ruin even the most potentially meaningful job.
So who was the worst manager you ever had when it comes to making work meaningless? How many of these deadly  sins did they commit?
Well, That’s all very  interesting, you may be thinking, but is anything I  can you do to make the  workplace better? I’d suggest that sharing this podcast and its associated blog at with some colleagues or, if you  dare  with your manager.

Wishing you happiness, wisdom and meaning -  until next time,

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Saturday, November 03, 2018

Practical Wisdom for Busy People Podcast. Episode 3 - 3 Good Things

Would you like to hear about a mental exercise you can do that will take less than 5 minutes a day and has been shown to increase happiness and reduce depression for as long as 6 months after you’ve practiced it every day for a week?
If you would, then stay tuned. It’s called 3 good things in Life and its one of the most powerful exercises to have come from Martin Seligman’s new branch of psychology, called Positive Psychology.
This is what you do:- 

Each night for one week, write down three things that went well that day. 
In addition to writing three things that went well, reflect on what you did that contributed to the good thing happening, directly or indirectly.

That’s it. Do that for a week and if you are like most people your happiness will increase and remain elevated for at least 6 months.

The only thing to remember is not to set the bar too high – the good thing doesn’t have to be that you just won the Nobel Prize! Remember to include how you contributed to that good thing happening as its empowering to realise that what you do makes a difference.

Here are some examples
Example 1) I went for a nice walk at lunch instead of snacking at my desk - I made this happen by planning it.
Example 2) I had a nice chat with my friend – at first I was tempted to say I didnt contribute to this, because she called me - then I realised that over the years I have done plenty to build and maintain this friendship 
Example 3 The sun shone today – I noticed it!

In all 3 cases I contributed to the good things happening, even in the case of the sun shining, as there is a version of me that might not have noticed it in which case the good thing wouldn’t have happened for me.

Why is 3 Good Things in Life such a potent exercise? Like any successful recipe, it combines ingredients that enhance each other. It’s a gratitude exercise, it builds optimism and it facilitates positive planning. You can do it on your own or within teams at work or with your family. Why not try it today?