Raise your Head above The Parapet? Lesson on Risk Taking

Raise your Head above The Parapet? Lesson on Risk Taking

Is this a good idea?

Do I risk raising my head above the parapet?

What will others think or say?

I felt this way two years ago as I was working with my publisher on my book. Who did I think I was to be writing a leadership book? Was this book even a good idea? Would it help people? What if no one reads it? What if it doesn’t sell? What if people don’t like it? And so many more questions and doubts.

I thought writing the book was hard, then I thought the editing process was hard, then I thought the design and layout was hard. In the end the hardest part was putting it out in the world – putting myself up for judgment – and not the good kind of judgment. I had the fear that it was a bad idea, it not being relevant, being ignored or worse maybe being criticized or ridiculed.
And I did it anyway. That old book from the 80’s, Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway, was my mantra when I was anxious and doubting myself.

Risk Taking in Business

This same trepidation about taking risks shows up in organizations. This was the discussion of a coaching group I led last week off the back of this question in their 360 reports “Willingness to be the only champion for an idea or project.” There was discussion about the reluctance to speak up in a high-pressure meeting for fear of making a mistake, looking stupid, or becoming a target. CEOs have the same fear of making a mistake (it’s the #2 fear behind fear of being found incompetent) from research by Roger Jones reported in Inc.com.

Calculated Risk Taking – Why is it important?

Organizations need risk takers – not foolish, impulsive risks – rather intentional and purposeful risks. Every organization claims innovation is a key strategy they need to succeed, to keep ahead of competition, to serve clients well. True innovation does not happen without taking risks. The key is calculated risk taking to mitigate any potential issues and increase the likelihood of success.

How did I Overcome the Fear and Take the Risk?

What I did to navigate the fear over writing and publishing my book are the same things you can do in organizations.

Identify why it matters to you. When you have a bigger WHY it’s easier to overcome the fear and doubt. Remind yourself why this idea or project is important to you and to the organization. Write it out, or draw it, post it close by to give you a vision. Putting my message out into the world mattered because it had practical tips for results-driven leaders that are actually simple. It mattered personally to me because the journey of being more motivating and inspiring rather than so task-focussed was my journey.

My book writing journey started with a 10-day book proposal writing programme offered by a book coach. The programme was designed to produce a proposal for my book for a publisher or literary agent. Writing that proposal felt a bit like the cart before the horse. Upon completion of that proposal I was more committed to my book than before. While articulating the audience for my book and the main ideas of my book in that proposal, it crystalized the vision and benefit of my book and that there was an audience for the models, tools and tips in my book.

Have support. I had the support of a book coach and was part of a book-writing group that supported each other through the process. They gave me input on the book content and also on my fears and worries. They shared their concerns which made me feel better about my feelings. We were a community of support, ideas and encouragement for each other which fuelled us forward. Find people who can support you with the content of your idea and with the encouragement to take a risk, people who believe in you and your ideas.

Realize it’s a process. Take one step, the first step. People often get overwhelmed when they think of the WHOLE, BIG PROJECT. Instead, think of one step you can do to advance the idea. Electric cars for example didn’t just materialize overnight, they were broken down into a series of steps, more accurately many series of steps. Focus on the step that is in front of you and take it one at a time.

Feel the fear. Emotions have information that can be valuable for us to know. When you feel something, notice the emotion and name it (there are many emotion wheels on-line to help you articulate the names of emotions as we aren’t taught emotional literacy at school). What is the message or information in the emotion? That emotion is data for yourself. For example, anxiety can mean you need more support or input to proceed. Frustration often means you have an unmet need so identify that unconscious need and ask for it to be fulfilled.

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Risk Taking

In organizations and even in families or volunteer groups, calculated risk taking is made easier if you build psychological safety. When there is psychological safety there’s the belief that one can speak up without risk of punishment or humiliation. You can create this by:

 Inviting questions and soliciting differences of opinions (eg. If you knew we couldn’t fail, what would you try?).

 Promoting self-awareness so people are aware of their impact, potential biases, and triggers.

 Offering multiple ways for people to input – verbally in a meeting, in the chat function of a VC, on post-its that are anonymously collected.

 Showing concern for people as people as it demonstrates your interest in them holistically and not just on the work-side.

 Shutting down gossip, backstabbing, and ridicule whenever it appears makes people know you have their backs.

Sticking my head above the parapet and publishing my book was worth it – this year my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, won The Business Book Award for Business Self-Development!

What could you create if you raised your head above the parapet?

What impact could you have? Or others in your team?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to help yourself and others take risks for greater innovation, trust and performance.

: A Tangible Example of Emotional Intelligence in Real Life

A Tangible Example of Emotional Intelligence in Real Life

Wondering what cricket can tell you about improving team performance?
Want to understand how “emotional intelligence” actually works in IRL?
Need actually phrases and tactics of how to “DO” emotional intelligence?

If you hate sports or don’t understand cricket, read on. There are leadership lessons for you to learn, even from bad examples of emotional intelligence on a sports field.

Last month the England Cricket Team played a Test match with India over 5 days. Spoiler alert, England were posed to win going into the final day until 1 hour of behaviour over 7 hours of play derailed them resulting in a draw. This isn’t just me saying it, Derek Pringle, sports journalist, summed it up as “England were puerile and it totally ruined their chances.” FYI for non-native English speakers, puerile means childish or immature. You could call some of their behaviour childish and I would say they were not operating with emotional intelligence. This is commonplace in many sports teams, organizations, businesses and even families.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

On that last day of play, the captain, Joe Root, had a poor showing at bat just after tea (gotta love a sport with a tea break I say). What I’m going to say is speculation as I wasn’t there and don’t know Joe Root. My speculation is based on what I’ve seen and heard over decades of organizational experience.

I assume he was disappointed in his batting performance. The team might have been frustrated they weren’t further ahead. They might have been anxious or worrying that Root’s at bat didn’t edge them close enough. There could have been some lingering resentment from the previous day when the Indian bowler (the person throwing the ball) bounced the ball in such a way to hit an England batter a few times. After that, England’s bowlers appeared to lose composure or forget their strengths or choose to change tactics and target the Indian batter’s head, hitting his helmet twice. Reactions were emotive across and between both teams. Please note there are many possibilities to what might have been going on in peoples’ heads and hearts – I name a few hear to illustrate. This illustrates the importance of recognizing that lots might be going on, and you probably don’t know for sure, so get curious, but I’m jumping ahead.

Leadership Lessons:

RESILIENCE – Increased resilience would have helped England during this last day of play. Resilience means the ability to bounce back after disappointment or step backs. The speed of being able to bounce back can be a game changer (literally for England’s Root).

How to be more resilient – Be self-aware enough to know what might trigger or derail you. What things (people, situations) throw you off your stride? An example for me is if two people in a group training I’m providing start talking among themselves, that CAN derail me, make me more concerned about what they are talking about, then what I’m doing with the rest of the group. Because I know that, it rarely knocks me off my game. Knowing what might upset you beforehand helps you see it before or just as it’s happening, to then be able to tell yourself “oh, I’m being triggered”. Beforehand, decide how you want to “be” in those situations and then in those moments choose what you’ve predefined. A post-it note on your monitor to remind you of how you want to be is helpful.

REACTIONS – Humans react to things, full stop. As much as we say business is rational, emotions are present all the time, even in offices and in virtual settings. Employers want the emotions of loyalty, commitment, positivity, excitement, gratitude, and many more. Employers and most humans don’t want the “negative” emotions of disappointment, unhappiness, overwhelm, anger, frustration, resentment or sadness. We can’t have it both ways.

How to handle reactions or emotions – Just as we can be triggered or derailed by situations and people, other people can be too. And they can also be triggered by what we do or say potentially. Best way to handle both our own and others’ emotions is to breath. When there’s time you can get curious by asking what are you feeling? What’s going on for you? I sense you might be frustrated, what’s happening? Naming an emotion can often diffuse it or at least clarify it for further exploration – much more productive than avoiding it as the person will still feel it. If there’s not time, such as on a cricket pitch mid-game, help point people to who they are when they are being their best and/or to what the goal is. For the cricketers it might have been for Root to: remind the bowlers of their what they had done well yesterday (“probing a good line and length to take advantage of cloud cover and an uneven pitch” according to Pringle); or what their strengths are; or that the goal/winning is in sight, they need to put aside any frustrations and be smart about how they play this to win (and then give them specific behaviours); or give them a positive mindset to hold (that was maybe discussed in training) such as “we are better than arguing on the pitch, let’s be the winning team we can be by playing how we can play”; or maybe set out an aspiration which could be asking “what would Ben Stokes expect or want for us now in order to win?” (Stokes is a star England cricketer who is on a break for mental health attention).

STEPPING UP – Yes, the captain of the sports team is the captain. The manager of a group at work is the manager. And a leader can be anyone who is present – both literally and emotionally (in the meeting, focused the moment/being present). By definition, a leader is someone who sees what needs to be done and rallies people towards that vision or goal. There could be a number of leaders in any situation, the leader is the one who sees what shift needs to happen to perform better and influences others towards it. Leadership is not a title, it’s the fact of having followers, people who choose to follow your direction hence leaders giving big direction (company vision or department goals) and leaders giving “small” direction (what’s needed right now, in an interaction, to get the most of out people in a way that’s mutually satisfying to achieve the task at hand).

How to be a leader, no matter your position – If there’s tension, anyone in the room can say “I sense we might need a break, how about we reconvene in 10 minutes after a breath of fresh air or glass of water?” Alternately, really courageous leadership would be pointing out the tension and getting curious about what’s happening for people. To do this type of courageous leadership requires trust amongst the team. Anyone can make any of the suggestions listed in the above ‘How to handle reactions or emotions.’ Any of the England team could have stepped in and said, “what do we need to do right now to win this?” Leaders often don’t have all the answers, they often have the best questions to unleash peoples’ potential to deal with the issue at hand.

In the case of this Test match and many meetings I’ve been involved in and heard about, keeping one’s head is paramount. That’s emotional intelligence. It doesn’t mean denying an emotion or feeling, it means knowing and managing yourself and your responses so that you can be aware of others’ feelings and manage your interaction with them to achieve the desired result. A captain exhibiting emotional intelligence would have recognized he was disappointed in himself for few runs; realized his bowlers were not using the tactics that had been successful up-to-now (maybe because of frustration or anger); rallied his team at any number of points in this 90-minute time span to focus them on their strengths, who they are when they are at their best and point them to the goal of winning.

Which of these leadership lessons matters most to you?

When have you seen such emotionally intelligent leadership? In sports or business?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your leadership, and how to help yourself and others keep your head in the game to win.

Photo by Patrick Case from Pexels

Why it’s Okay to Show Emotion (and even Cry) at Work

Why it’s Okay to Show Emotion (and even Cry) at Work.

Organizations, and if we believe stereotypes male bosses, often hold the belief that people should leave their emotions at the door when they come to work. Some leaders say business is logical, factual, and shouldn’t be personal. In working with countless organizations on leadership development and coaching hundreds of clients the truth is that organizations want and need emotions at work. The key is which and how to manage them.

Truth of Emotions at Work

When leaders tell me they don’t want emotions at work I ask, “you want them to leave ambition, loyalty, trust, calm and inspiration at the door?” Usually not. Organizations want those emotions and others (happy, grateful, practical), they just don’t want the ‘difficult or uncomfortable’ ones.

Crying at Work

Emotions such as extreme anger in terms of outbursts and sadness or frustration especially if expressed in tears are the ones people don’t want as they don’t know how to deal with them. We aren’t taught emotional literacy in school like we are taught language and numerical literacy. Hence, not knowing what they are (is loyalty an emotion? Yes) or how to be with them.

Emotions as Data

The idea that some emotions are welcome and some not highlights the belief that some emotions are good, and some are bad. Emotions are just sensations and data. Fear is good sometimes as It alerts us to danger. Anxiety is the belief something might hurt us, but we don’t know what, so it is good to keep us vigilant. Tears might be good to indicate passion/commitment or overwhelm and potential burnout. Many people report crying when frustrated at work. There are no good or bad emotions; they are just present. The key is how to use that data to improve your effectiveness in achieving the organization’s agenda.

Crying at Work

Crying in some work environments might cause others to think you are weak. Articulating verbally that you are frustrated, having the emotion below the surface in your voice for authenticity, can be very powerful. This is why storytelling can be so effective in motivating and inspiring people; it conveys and evokes emotion.
Depending on your environment if you feel the need to cry, do it in private. If you do cry in public, name it, what’s the emotion that prompted the tears. Be comfortable being with your own emotions and teach others with your example of how to be with them. Reassure the other person that you don’t need them to do anything with the tears, potentially you need them to do something about the situation if applicable.

Managing Emotions at Work

The key is understanding your emotions and eventually others’ emotions. What are the emotions telling you? How does that serve the work? What emotions do you want others to feel? What can you do or say to or how can you be with them to create that feeling? This is what can build trust, passion and loyalty. What emotion is someone feeling about a request you’ve made? Sensing this (or asking) will help you know how to influence them better.
It’s how you express emotions at work, how you influence others to feel and sense how others are feeling that is key to building your credibility, effectiveness and having the impact you want.

Do your emotions help you at work?

Do other people’s emotions throw you?

Click on the various free resources I offer on my website that I’ve listed here:

Gratitude Template

Creating Better Interactions

Giving Feedback Template

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore managing your, and others’, emotional responses further.

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

How to Deal with Poorly Delivered Negative Feedback at Work

How to Deal with Negative Feedback (Ouch) at Work

No matter how well you perform at work everyone experiences receiving negative feedback (or at least they would in a learning or continuous improvement environment). Technically, feedback is feedback, we judge it as being positive or negative. All feedback, even positive feedback or the things we do well, is about improving ourselves even if that means continuing to do the good things we do.

Negative feedback can hurt. Our ego can be sensitive. It can go further and trigger feelings of shame or ‘not being good enough’ as some of my coaching clients experience. If negative feedback affects you in that way, then pay close attention to the BEFORE tips below to better prepare yourself (and consider working with a coach or therapist to get to the root of the issue).

Here are things you can do BEFORE, DURING and AFTER receiving the feedback (any feedback actually, positive or constructive).

BEFORE Getting any Feedback

1. Change your mindset about negative feedback. Think of it as constructive or developmental; meant to help you improve or be more effective (even if it’s delivered to you in a clumsy, less-than-ideal manner). Yes, this is a bit of mental gymnastics. Often, it’s said that feedback is a gift (imagine a beautifully wrapped box) think of it that way so when it comes you have that visual to ground you in the positive.

2. Identify what feedback would you give yourself. Proactively think about the areas you could improve to increase your effectiveness right now. Chances are you know the feedback others would probably give you (and sometimes we’re tougher on ourselves than others would be). What would you advise yourself to do differently to improve? How could some of your strengths help you make those improvements?

3. Reflect on your past experiences of receiving feedback. What did you think and how did you feel? What was it about that feedback that caused you to feel that way? What did it remind you of in your past? What did you tell yourself about that feedback? Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and consider their perspective in giving you that feedback? It can often be what we imagine or assume about the feedback that threatens us, more than the feedback itself.

DURING the Feedback Itself

1. Listen. Breathe. Listen. Listen to understand not to respond or defend. Breath while you are listening to stay present and not become reactive. Try to understand what the other person is saying. My executive coaching clients find simply nodding signals listening and buys them time to compose themselves and put their attention on what’s being said rather than the icky feeling inside.

2. Ask questions to understand better. As Stephen Covey, the famous educator, businessman and author said decades ago, seek first to understand before being understood. Ask them to repeat it again (in case you didn’t hear it the first time because you were listening to the little voices in your head defending yourself). Ask for specific examples to help you understand. Ask, in a curious tone, questions about what they see or hear you doing that’s impeding your performance such as:

• What behaviours am I doing that aren’t effective?

• What am I saying that has that impact?

• What specifically would you suggest I do or say?

• How should I do or say it differently to improve?

These types of questions can even help people that are poor at giving feedback to be better.

3. Acknowledge having heard the feedback. Restate what you have heard so you can confirm you’ve received it as intended. Tell the other person you will go away and consider how to act on their feedback. Depending on the feedback, the situation and the individual who said it to you, you might want to say you will come back to them to talk it through further or share your improvements. Say thank you (even if it’s thanking them for just caring about your performance!).

AFTER Getting Feedback

1. Consciously decide where to “take” the feedback. This tip relates back to the idea of feeling bad about ourselves when we receive negative feedback. There are different “lens” through which you can “see” the feedback. You can see it at a behavioural level (hence, why you ask them what they see or hear you doing, to focus them on giving you feedback about behaviours). At the other end, you can see it at an identity level, that you are a bad person or not good enough for the role. A useful structure to help assess where to take (and give) feedback is below. Its origins are from The Logical Levels, a tool or model in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) developed by coach, consultant and trainer Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein. Focus on receiving the feedback at the outer 3 levels and ask questions to get the feedback at those levels.

Copyright Anne Taylor, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, Practical Inspiration Publishing, London 2020

2. Decide what you will take on board. As with any gift, you can decide whether to receive it or not. Firstly, find the 2% truth in the feedback. You might not agree with anything the person is saying but often there is 2% truth in there somewhere. You had an impact, in the case of negative feedback, an ineffective impact. How that impact has been interpreted by the ‘giver of the feedback’ may not be entirely inaccurate. Putting your ego and self-doubt aside, what truth is in the feedback they are proposing? Secondly, decide if you will do anything with the feedback. Depending on the feedback, the situation and the giver of the feedback you need to consciously decide what’s best for you personally, for your performance and potentially your career. Lastly, if you decide all or some of it is relevant then develop a plan of action to improve it. You already have ideas from them when you asked what you could do differently to be more effective.

3. Follow up as necessary. You might want to follow up with the person that gave you the feedback to get more clarity by asking more questions. There is no harm in re-visiting it to understand more or to get suggestions on what to do better. You could also let them know what you are doing with the feedback, if anything. This very much depends on the situation, the feedback and who gave it. Some of the positives of doing this are: positively reinforcing that person to continue to give feedback, creating a feedback culture, showing you value them and their observations, and potentially having them think more highly of you as you take your impact seriously.

Remember, just as you might have struggled with receiving negative feedback others might too. Take that into consideration when you are giving feedback to others. Keep it focused on things they can change like behaviour, skills and capabilities. Don’t get personal, don’t give feedback at an identity level. Frame it as developmental and express your intention to help them improve their effectiveness. For more information on how to give feedback well see my blog, How to Give Constructive Feedback to Empower People.

What feedback would you like to address to improve your performance?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore feedback you’ve received and how you can become more effective, satisfied and successful.

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Are You in Danger of Potentially Being a Workaholic?

Are You in Danger of Potentially Being a Workaholic?

Workaholic? Long working hours? Many people struggle with long working hours and a lack of boundaries between work and home, especially when working from home is now widespread. Anecdotal evidence from interviews I’m conducting estimates that white-collar office workers are working 90 minutes to 2 hours longer per day while working from home.

Workaholism Meaning

Workaholism is different than working hard or working long hours. It is an addiction, a mental health issue like alcoholism and drug addiction. Psychologist Wayne E. Oates created the term “workaholic” in 1968 as someone with “an uncontrollable need to work incessantly.” Like an alcoholic, it’s the compulsion, you must, not because the excess is good or enjoyable. It isn’t the quantity of work, it’s about how you engage with your work and predominately your inability to disengage from it.

Workaholics – Common Indicators

Workaholism is typically long-term, it’s not related to a short-term burst as you strive for a promotion or deal with the initial crisis of a pandemic. The key indicator is the amount of head space, thought, energy and in some cases time you dedicate to work.

Some indicators are:

• Work late and/or take work home often and unnecessarily

• Checking messages at home, maybe even in the middle of the night

• Working or continually checking messages on holidays

• Time and relationships with others are compromised

• Lack of sleep or poor sleep

• You’re defined by your work

A notable ‘test’ for workaholism is The Bergen Work Addiction Scale. It was developed at the Faculty of Psychology, University of Bergen (UiB) in collaboration with Bergen Clinic Foundation and Nottingham Trent University and outlines 7 criteria for identifying work addiction. Score each criterion on the scale of: (1) Never, (2) Rarely, (3) Sometimes, (4) Often, and (5) Always:

• You think of how you can free up more time to work.

• You spend much more time working than initially intended.

• You work in order to reduce feelings of guilt, anxiety, helplessness and depression.

• You have been told by others to cut down on work without listening to them.

• You become stressed if you are prohibited from working.

• You deprioritise hobbies, leisure activities, and exercise because of your work.

• You work so much that it has negatively influenced your health.

Doctor Cecilie Schou Andreassen’s work at UiB shows that scoring «often» or «always» on at least four of the seven items may suggest that you are a workaholic.¹

Health Impact of Being a Workaholic

Research by Lieke ten Brummelhuis and Nancy P. Rothbard of 3,500 employees identified the differences between the behaviours of those who worked long hours and the mindset of workaholics and the effect on health. They also conducted medical checks on 763 of these employees to ascertain the health impact.

Among people who worked long hours this research found they suffered no adverse physical effects (of note, separate research shows continuous, stressful hours of prolonged work is harmful to cognitive ability especially in those over 40 years of age). Whereas, those who were workaholics, whether they worked long hours or not, had more health complaints and increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.²

5 Steps to Address Workaholism

Acknowledge you might have a problem. That’s the first step of any recovery programme. If those closest to you, especially if it’s multiple people, have commented on your work preoccupation consider that you might be workaholic. You can’t address what you don’t acknowledge.

Reflect on what might be the root of the problem. What might be the underlying reason(s)? One might be because you don’t feel good enough so you’re chasing ‘approval’ by achieving the next goal, doing the next task or being recognized for your ‘passion and commitment.’ Another might be perfectionism. Trying to live up to a self-imposed standard to prove you are competent or live up to an unrealistic expectation from a boss or society. Another could be to avoid other aspects of your life.

Imagine a balanced, successful life. The first step to any goal is knowing where you’re going. As an entrepreneur you have an idea and strive to bring that to life. You create. Do this with your own life. Imagine what a balanced, successful life looks like for you. What do you want people to say about you 50 years from now? What values, relationships and impact do you want to be known for? Once you have the vision, start working towards it.

Create boundaries. Success at work is impossible if you are tired and risk sickness and ill health. Put boundaries in place in terms of amount of time working and mental rejuvenation. Commit and schedule other activities that you can get lost in. What are your dormant passions? Learn mindfulness to be less obsessive about work thoughts and worries. Put reminders in your diary throughout the day to breath down to your belly, to walk around, to leave at a certain time.

Get support at work, from family, friends and professionals if needed. Professional help might be needed if you feel you are a workaholic, and/or you identified an underlying cause of the problem that isn’t healthy. Also, ask for support from friends, family and colleagues to disengage from work and be fully present with them and in other activities.

Manager of a Workaholic?

Whether you manage a workaholic or know someone who might be a workaholic, here are some ideas:

• Help the person find their intrinsic motivation for working that’s healthy. What makes the work meaningful? What enjoyment do they derive from work? As author, Simon Sinek, says great leaders inspire action by starting from the WHY, what’s the purpose? Leaders need to know why they get out of bed, and it usually isn’t to hit a target or make money.

• Point them to time management tools for greater efficiency and effectiveness.

• Foster a culture of appropriate boundaries, work/life balance and engagement as this will help everyone be productive, energized and creative.

• Communicate clearly about what’s acceptable and expected for after-hours communication and work.

• Show them this article.

To re-iterate, if you answered always or often on 4 of the Bergen Work Addiction criteria consult with a health professional to get support and a robust assessment. If you scored less and are struggling or want to create different working schedule get support.

What would improve with better boundaries at work?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore your working situation, boundaries, or those of people that work for you.

 

Endnotes
¹https://www.uib.no/en/news/36450/driven-work
²https://hbr.org/2018/03/how-being-a-workaholic-differs-from-working-long-hours-and-why-that-matters-for-your-health?registration=success

Photo by Liza Summer from Pexels

 

How to be More Empathetic at Work and Why It’s Important

How to be More Empathetic at Work and Why It’s Important

Being empathetic or showing empathy is being mentioned by my coaching clients more and more lately. These leaders feel its importance has increased with new generations in the workforce, the focus on employee engagement and more so with the stresses and uncertainty of the pandemic. Research detailed below suggests they are right to make it a focus as 1 in 3 employees leave their organization for a more compassionate one.

Let’s start with some definitions because language does clarify.

What is Empathy?

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position. It’s putting yourself in the shoes of another, to see and feel from their perspective, not yours. You don’t necessarily agree with what they are feeling or their predicament. It’s an emotional link between people. Empathy doesn’t require me to have experienced that emotion before. It can be used for both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ emotions.

What is Compassion?

Compassion is a sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. It’s the idea that you can be with someone, and with their emotions while keeping your own emotional centre. A leader would do well to be compassionate with an employee they are firing, rather than empathetic. Being empathetic might cause you to be in their perspective and feelings so much that you engulfed in their fear or grief.

What is the Difference between Sympathy and Empathy

Sympathy is sharing the feelings with another, often with the expression of sorrow or pity for their troubles. There’s a sense of agreeing with the other’s misfortune and sharing it. Sympathy does require that you’ve felt that way yourself previously in order to share it. For example, we say we sympathize when we hear about a death, that means we connect to our own feelings of grief and loss and feel those feelings so can share how they are feeling.

Empathy and Emotional Intelligence at Work – The Business Case

Annual research by Businessolver shows the importance of empathy on employee engagement, productivity and retention and even more so for Gen Z.

In fact, they’ve found each of the last 5 years that they’ve being doing the survey that employees would sacrifice pay or work longer hours to work for an empathetic employer. In 2020, 74% of employees said they would work longer hours for an empathetic employer, and 80% said they would switch companies for equal pay if the employer were more empathetic.

Their research found that empathetic organizations were even more important to Gen Z with 83% of Gen Z employees saying they would choose an employer with a strong culture of empathy over an employer offering a slightly higher salary. 83% of Gen Z would consider leaving their current organization for a similar role at a more empathetic organization.¹

Furthermore, the research shows that CEOs overestimate how empathetic their organizations are versus how employees perceive it. Same for CEOs views of themselves: 5% of employees view CEOs in general as empathetic— representing a four-year low—versus 87% of CEOs.

What Makes Empathy at Work Difficult?

• It takes time, effort (emotionally and mentally) and is vulnerable as you have to name emotions of another person which might mean you are wrong.

• Different beliefs about the focus hence management prioritize what they believe vs their employees thereby losing the benefit. CEOs think empathy improves the bottom line, rather than the day-to-day work environment. Versus employees who think empathy creates a better workplace which increases their productivity and loyalty. CEOs and leaders miss the opportunities for empathy in the everyday which is what employees want.

• Different beliefs about who is responsible for building an empathetic culture, employees say their manager vs senior managers and HR having it as an initiative.

• We are not taught emotional literacy at school or work. At school we are taught reading, writing and numerical literacy not emotional. Many of my generation, the senior leaders today, weren’t taught about emotions at home.

• It can’t be measured.

• Empathetic people in an organization can be taken advantage of or be expected to “be the empathetic one” taking time and emotional energy.

Showing Empathy at Work

There’s a 3-part structure that’s helpful for conveying empathy as follows:

Acknowledge what the person is feeling – name the emotion

State what is making the person feel that way – seeing it from their perspective

Hypothesize why they might be feeling that way – give the person a sense or guess of why they might be feeling that way, be humble as you might not be correct

Here are some examples:

“I hear you are frustrated, Lisa, with your interactions with your colleague, Teo. I guess that’s because he’s not giving you the information you need in a timely manner.”

“I see that you are angry about the fact I’m not agreeing with you. I sense that’s because you wanted to just get on with it. “

“You sound really pleased that your recommendation got approved. I guess it’s because it’s your first one.”

Tips for Empathy

Listen from their perspective, meaning you need to be silent to listen and sense their experience. Actively listen, take time, clear out your own thoughts, beliefs, opinions and listen to put your attention on the other.

Ask questions. Don’t try and solve things initially (if at all), seek to understand the root cause of the other person’s thinking and feeling. Probe don’t interrogate. Clarify your understanding especially if the other person isn’t as clear as you want or need.

Suspend your assumptions about the person, the topic or the situation. We assume multiple times a day, if not more. Assumptions are from our experience, they are probably not shared as everyone’s experience is different.

Prioritize issues wisely, not first-come-first-serve. Giving priority to critical or more pressing issues shows people you understand.

Give empathy to those who are empathetic, as they often carry a heavier load.

Give people the benefit of the doubt if they are having a bad day or struggling. Don’t assume the worse in others especially if they make a mistake or are being difficult. More on this bias of attributing people’s mistakes to their character rather than external causes in a previous blog here.

Be present. Smile at people. Remember their names and ideally those of their family. Turn off your notifications and distractions when you’re in conversation with them.

Being empathetic doesn’t mean their issue becomes yours. In fact, you trying to solve it or make it better might make them feel they haven’t been heard or understood.

Show your own vulnerability. Share some of your worries (those that are ‘acceptable’ given your role) and positive emotions too. Share a few acceptable personal things. This makes you more relatable.

The key to empathy is to see your colleagues as people with feelings. Those feelings can be because of work or what’s going on personally for them. Get to know people as individuals, it doesn’t mean you have to be friends rather it means showing some interest periodically beyond just the task at hand. This is not a quick fix, it will be a journey for you and the organization’s culture to compassion and empathy leading to greater loyalty and productivity.

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. Where would being more empathetic and compassionate benefit you or your team?

Endnotes
¹https://f.hubspotusercontent40.net/hubfs/378546/Empathy-2020/2020%20State%20of%20Workplace%20Empathy%20Executive%20Summary/businessolver-2020-state-of-workplace-empathy-executive-summary.pdf

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Asking for Help is a Leadership Quality - Really!

Asking for Help is a Leadership Quality, Really!

Think asking for help is a weakness? Especially if you are a leader? Think about when someone asks you for help, you are usually flattered and feel valued for the contribution you can make. Others often feel the same way. Also, there are few Solo heroes – even Superman had support from Lois Lane. We as humans are social beings, interdependent within organizations and life.

When I was writing my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, I had to ask for help often. I asked coaching clients’ permission to use their experiences as case studies (anonymously), asked target readers to give me feedback, and thought leaders and corporate leaders to endorse the book to name a few. Each time I did that my book was better and the people were grateful I reached out and chose them.

Few jobs or tasks can be done in isolation, organizational structures are complex, people are remote yet connected so there’s actually an inherent expectation in today’s organizations of working together in various forms.

Why is Asking for Help a Strength?

Self-aware – asking for help shows you are self-aware by knowing when you need support or information you don’t have. You are not blind to your gaps in knowledge or behaviour.

Resourceful – asking for help shows you can identify alternate resources to get the job done.

Confident – asking for help shows you are confident enough in yourself and your ability to reach out to others. You can overcome any associated fear. You have humility – you recognize you don’t have all the answers.

Results-oriented – asking for help demonstrates your commitment to getting the job done, to the best of your ability and actually beyond your ability as you involve others’ knowledge and abilities too.

What Stops Us from Asking?

Most of the barriers we have to doing something are self-imposed, few come from external sources and asking for help is no exception.

• Fear of rejection

• Worried about being seen as needy

• Thought of as incapable or incompetent

• Insecurity of not knowing, not being able to handle it on your own

• Personal shame/feeling you’re not good enough

• The issue didn’t seem worthy of getting help

 

When asking senior leaders to review my book I was fearful of rejection and being seen as needy. I knew I couldn’t write my own reviews or endorsements (obviously), so I wasn’t worried about being thought of as incompetent.

The bottom-line of what stops people from asking for help is vulnerability – being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, at work it’s about being thought less of. Vulnerability and courage are two sides of the same coin. As researcher, Brené Brown, shared in her book, Dare to Lead, firefighters are some of the most courageous people, running into danger, putting their lives at risk which also demonstrates they are vulnerable – to death, injury, risking others’ lives.

The Leadership Benefits of Asking for Help

Beyond the obvious benefit of getting the work done to the best standard possible as you’ve gotten help from someone, there are many other leadership benefits to asking for help such as:

1. Role model the importance of collaborating with others. When a leader asks for help it sets the tone for what’s accepted in the group, and demonstrates that collaborating, getting others involved is acceptable and desired.

2. Enrol others in your ideas and solutions. One of my coaching clients always did things on her own, to her own detriment at times, to appear strong, capable, able to handle anything single-handedly. She got feedback from people that she was closed minded when in reality she loved input from others. She started asking for help to solicit the input she loved, and a side benefit was that she engaged others. It’s worked brilliantly, she’s found people more engage in the projects earlier, gotten better solutions with their input, not only making it better for the business outcome but also easier and more enjoyable for her.

3. Allow people to play to or use their strengths. Not everyone can be good at everything, and ideally your organization has a diversity of skills, talents and abilities. Asking for help allows people to use their strengths not only for their work but to help others’ work. Imagine if everyone in your organization was leveraging their strengths? Happier people and better results.

4. Makes us mentally stronger. When we practice a skill, we get better at it. Asking for help is no exception. It gets us out of our heads to some degree thereby sharing the burden and lightening our load, both in terms of completing the task but also emotionally. This sharing makes us more resilient and saves energy for when we are required to deliver individually.

How to Ask for Help

Sometimes the very expression “asking for help” makes people cringe at the thought of saying it. If it does make you cringe, and we were in a 1:1 coaching relationship, I’d be tempted to probe what caused that reaction in you or how you could say those words in a way (tone, attitude, come from place) with which you could be comfortable (if that was of interest) and I digress.

There are ways to achieve the same end (better results with less personal angst) such as:

1. Have people ‘volunteer’ their strengths. Have your team members share what they are good at and what types of things they could help others with. Having people publicly share their strengths, offering them up to others creates a shared understanding of who can help with what. It opens the door to be of service to another.

2. Ask in a way that feels right for you. There’s lots of ways to ask for help. Can I get your input? What would you suggest about…? Can I bounce something off you? Would you have time to collaborate on…? Can I pick your brain? I’d like an outside perspective please on…

3. Create a buddy system. Rather than asking for help being a one-way exchange, create a give-and-take with another person. Find someone inside or outside your organization who is complimentary to you and create a buddy system for giving each other help. This can work for both intellectual and emotional help.

4. Get clear on what help you need if possible. Identify what the obstacle or problem is that you’re struggling with and therefore what you’d want help with. Sometimes identifying the problem is what you need help with – and that’s good to know when approaching someone so you can articulate “I’d like your assistance identifying a block I’ve encountered in this project.”

5. Get a mentor. Be a mentor. Mentors are people senior to you, outside of your reporting line, even outside your organization, that provide training or advice about career progression and professional development. I’ve done training sessions for formal mentoring programs and the mentors were all volunteers and thrilled/honoured to be involved. They also said the relationships ended up being reciprocal – they learned from their mentees and sometimes asked them for help (on using social media for example).

6. Be genuine. Ask for help when you need it or when it would benefit the project, don’t use it as a ploy to engage people or shirk your responsibilities. People can sense when you’re passing the buck or going to the trough too many times needlessly so make it a win-win – everyone feeling good about their involvement.

In summary, organizations are simply systems of interconnected people designed to achieve a goal, purpose or specific outcomes. Everyone in an organization is dependent on someone for something – payroll to pay you, IT to provide support, manufacturing to produce the product for the customer. Your need for help is no different, how can you engage with others, by asking for help when needed, for better results?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. Where would asking for help make you more effective?

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Emotions at Work are Just Data to Get Better Results

Emotions are Just Data – Understand Them for Better Results at Work

There’s a common opinion that business is just about the facts, being rational and that it’s not personal. And we’ve all seen the following at work whether in others or ourselves:

• Disappointment about a project or promotion not coming to fruition,
• Stress about an impending deadline,
• Frustration about someone ‘s delay in getting you information you need,
• Excitement about a project about to launch, and
• Tears/crying.

So, emotions are present at work!

Emotional Intelligence at Work

Success at work requires intelligence – both intellectual and emotional. As people advance in their organizations, their role and success are more about how they motivate, inspire and collaborate with other people and less about “doing the work.” For example, a CFO’s success is not how well they complete a spreadsheet, it’s rather how well they lead their teams, influence other stakeholders and co-pilot with the other leaders.

Emotions as Data

Emotions are data. Just as sales, staff turnover, and market research are all data. The data needs to be analysed to become information that you can then action. Say your company is below the sales target this month. You analyse the data to determine what’s causing the low sales number until you identify the root cause, so you can find the appropriate solution and act on it.

And emotions are the same. They tell you something. The emotions we think of as “positive” are emotions we feel when our needs are being met. The emotions we think of as “negative” are emotions we feel when our needs are not being met. Same for other people. When someone is engaged and attentive, a need of theirs is being met (they are intellectually stimulated, hopeful about an idea, or being valued for example). When someone is frustrated, a need of there is not being met (they are not getting the answer they want, or fast enough for example).

Emotions at Work

According to research¹ by Cynthia D. Fisher at the School of Business, Bond University the most common negative emotions experienced in the workplace are:

•  Frustration/irritation
•  Worry/nervousness
•  Anger/aggravation
•  Dislike (of someone)
•  Disappointment/unhappiness

It’s these “negative” emotions that are perceived as more problematic at work so that will be the focus of this article, how to manage those emotions.

Managing Your Emotions

Managing your emotions at work is critical for your success as it allows you to have the impact you want to have.

1. Notice and name the emotion you are feeling. State (internally or externally) “I feel …” This allows you to accept the emotion rather than avoid it. Avoiding the emotion will have it linger longer. Try to notice your emotions as early as possible, before you are blind- sided by them.

2. Allow yourself to feel the emotion in your body. Again, this is counter-intuitive, and it will diffuse the emotion, for example you’ll feel a shirt and a sense of calm will arrive.

3. Ask what the need is behind the emotion. Ask what is the message in this emotion? Once you’ve identified the need you can then find a productive solution to satisfy the need. Often it can be as simple as asking for what you need (from yourself or another) with the emotional language removed as you don’t feel it anymore.

4. Discover your triggers. We are often ‘triggered’ by other people. When we’re triggered it’s rarely that person that is bothering us, it’s usually something about them that reminds you of a previous experience. Notice the people or their characteristics that bother you. Write them down.

5. Express your emotions in an appropriate way. Saying you are angry or upset by someone in a calm voice is okay, yelling or belittling someone is not okay. Focus on your feelings rather than assuming their intentions.

More ideas can be found here.

How to Manage Others

I believe a big part of a leader’s role is to help people feel good at work, have “positive” emotions about their work, their contribution and the organization. Here are some ways of dealing with “negative” emotions before building positive ones.

1. Notice people’s emotions. In school we are taught language and numerical literacy, start to learn emotional literacy so you can notice emotions and ‘name’ them (even if just to yourself initially). Here’s a link to a previous blog on Myths about Emotions. Being able to name something helps to start to understand it. Saying to someone “you seem frustrated” can make people feel seen and saying it in that way says you don’t know or assume, you sense.

2. Ask people how they feel then go deeper to find the unmet need. Don’t accept fine, great, ok – those aren’t emotions. Asking and really listening to understand means people don’t lose time or energy ‘stewing’. Ask them what they need to find out what’s behind the emotion. Once you (and they) know the need behind it, both of you can determine how to satisfy that if appropriate. Do this in private for psychological safety.

3. Acknowledge someone’s emotion. You can’t change their emotions; you aren’t responsible for making the emotion go away. Just as was recommended to you above in managing your own emotions, allow them to feel their emotions so it can dissipate, and they can move on faster rather than let it fester. Get comfortable with the discomfort, you’ll build loyalty and help them move forward faster. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away.

4. Encourage and support your staff to build up their emotional resilience. Provide programmes promoting physical and psychological wellbeing if possible. Encourage healthy eating, sleep, exercise, proper breaks during the workday, connecting with friends and family, going out in nature and talking about thoughts and feelings.

5. Give space. If things are heated or someone is consumed by their emotion, suggest a break or pause. Allow them to compose themselves or have them go out for a walk. Come back to the discussion when they are able. Talk to them about possible positive intentions of those involved and focus on solutions not judgements and accusations.

In summary, emotions are nothing to fear. In fact, you want to encourage emotions in a respectful way so that people don’t waste time worrying or being angry or frustrated. Freeing people of their “negative” emotions allows them to focus their emotional energy on more productivity. When dealing with the negative emotions you can then ask what’s needed for them to feel inspired, engaged and loyal?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in how to handle or manage emotions at work? What would make you more effective?

¹ “Emotions at Work: What Do People Feel and How Should we Measure it?” by Cynthia D. Fisher. School of Business Discussion Paper; No. 63, February 1997. © Copyright Cynthia D. Fisher and the School of Business, Bond University.

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The Unconscious Bias Every Leader Needs to Know to Improve

The Unconscious Bias Every Leader Needs to Know

We all have biases. They aren’t all bad. I hold a bias that those in the medical profession are caring, intelligent and giving. It’s usually the biases with negative consequences that need our attention.

There are many types of cognitive bias. A bias is a way of thinking about the world or interpreting things going on around us which are patterns or systemic to us as individuals. Our experience of the world is subjective; we experience things in our own way. And we behave from our own perspectives hence why knowing a potential bias is helpful to determine if it’s has negative consequences and therefore needs to be reviewed.

Attribution Error

What is the Fundamental Attribution Error that creates bias? It is the idea that we attribute someone else’s behaviour to their character or personality, whereas we attribute our actions to external factors outside of our control. We hold other people fully accountable for all their behaviours, whereas we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. We judge others personally for things, deciding that they were internally motivated to do what they did.

Here’s a real-world example: A client missed a session this morning which I was a few minutes late for anyway. If I attributed his no-show to poor planning and laziness and mine to the fact I was receiving a delivery, I’d be guilty of the fundamental attribution error. His character was to blame for his no-show whereas I justified my lateness because of the delivery (out of my control). (FYI, I didn’t blame him as he’s always punctual, so I knew something unusual, out of his control was going on, which it was).

Same with kids. Have you ever chastised your ‘lazy child’ for not doing their chores while you make an excuse for yourself for not getting your work done that day?

Especially Relevant When Giving Negative Feedback

This concept of attribution error came up recently at London Business School when I was delivering a (virtual) session on how to give feedback. When you are giving feedback please ensure you aren’t falling into the attribution error trap. Look at the behaviour the person is displaying and stay neutral about the intention or reasons for it (until you know).

Behaviours and the negative impacts of others are often attributed to character or personality under this error. They are mistaken for intentions often leading to you being emotionally judgmental (overtly or just in your mind) which then masks any understanding and empathy you might bring to the situation.

When you make an attribution about someone’s behaviour to their personality or character, those attributions tend to stick. They stick because of confirmation bias – we search for and interpret data that confirms our beliefs. That’s why it’s hard to shake a first impression of someone or something.

Other Implications

The Fundamental Attribution Error can impact any interaction you have. It can influence who you select to work on a project or get a promotion. It has been found to be the cause of everything from misunderstandings, hurt feelings to firings.

Unconscious Bias – 6 Steps to Address It

A bias is only unconscious if you don’t know you have it. Therefore, the first step in any development area is to start to become aware of it.

1. Notice what thoughts you have when others do something ‘wrong’ or act in a way that has a negative result versus your own actions. How often are you falling into the attribution error? What are the patterns you might have around blaming/judging/assuming? A specific person or situation?

2. Give people the benefit of the doubt until you learn more. If you notice you’re going to attribute someone’s mistake, error or bad behaviour to their character, brainstorm other possible attributions you could make to uncontrollable factors. This can help you break the cycle of attributing erroneously. What situational factors might be happening? These situational factors might be impacting more people than this one person, so could lead you to improve things overall.

3. Practice gratitude. When you notice your annoyed or frustrated with someone (even yourself), make a list of 3-5 positive characteristics or skills that they (you) have.

4. Get curious about what’s behind someone’s behaviour rather than assuming. As the image that accompanies this article suggests, get clear on what is real and what might be a figment of your imagination. You could ask them “what was behind that behaviour?” to learn more. Practice empathy – understanding what it’s like to be in their shoes and how they feel.

5. When giving feedback focus on the behaviour, not the intention or character. I recommend the COIN model which is “when you did/said this…” the impact was “this, this and this.” See here for detailed explanation. Ensure you see and understand a pattern of behaviour before making big decisions. If there are patterns of repetitive negative behaviours for someone, have a conversation with them to understand what’s behind it before making any big decisions about their work and role.

6. Look at your own actions for self-development. Look at your own patterns of behaviours with negative implications and examine if you need to do some development work. Are there themes in what you judge others for that might be applicable to you?

Awareness and understanding are the keys here to better interactions and hence results. You can’t really eliminate all biases and you can be aware and mitigate them to have the impact you want to have. This is especially important for the emotionally-charged times in which we are working and living. Our beliefs and biases about working from home, governments, mask-wearing, covid, racial unrest and more can cause division, blame and unhelpful responses if we don’t recognize and give consideration to others’ perspectives.

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in further developing your leadership. What would make you more effective and fulfilled at work and/or life?

PHOTO BY ANNE TAYLOR

Ditch New Year Resolutions. Find fun things to do near ME.

Ditch New Year Resolutions. Find fun things to do near ME.

I don’t do new year resolutions. They often don’t work according to research. They are often punitive (lose weight, exercise more, less alcohol, stop smoking).

This year I’m doing 21-4-21 with a focus on FUN (yes, even during a pandemic). Those who have followed my writing for years might recognize this as I’ve done 49-4-49 and 50-4-50 previously. 49-4-49 was forty-nine fun things between my 49th and 50th birthday. 50-4-50 was fifty acts of kindness to others the 12 months following my 50th birthday.

What’s Next

Christmas, New Year’s and the holidays are now behind us. This year has started out a little turbulent shall I say. We’re half way through the first month. Time is ticking. What’s next for you?

You can set your own direction. You can go with whatever comes along. You could do both or nothing.

Make Lemonade Out of Lemons

So, what are my 21 things you ask? I don’t have a full list yet, that’s part of the fun of this project. My list has to reflect the fact that, for me, this year has started in another lockdown and I want to jump into this project now and not wait for lessening of restrictions.

What I have on my list so far are:

Assemble a colourful puzzle. I’ve chosen a 1000-piece impuzzlble – it’s not a picture or scene, it’s repeatable pattern of 5 colours making it somewhat hard to figure out which of the 200 yellow pieces fit together. Scientific research proves doing puzzles lifts one’s spirit.

Knit a snood. My cousin sent me a kit to do just that! A snood is a loose-fitting collar to keep your neck warm. Research from Harvard Medical School’s Mind and Body Institute proved that knitting induces the relaxation response, lowers the heart rate, and high blood pressure drops. Further research shows it induces relaxation and reduces stress and anxiety as well.

Play in a virtual escape room. I like trying to solve the puzzles with friends that gets you out of an escape room. Apparently, they are offered virtually now so I’ll be finding one to try with some friends.

Cook 21 new recipes. I have 3 on my list for this weekend from Ottolenghi’s new cookbook, Flavour.

Participate in a pub quiz. This could be online or in person when permitted. Love me a pub quiz.

Play Yahtzee with a games group.

Kayak on the Thames when possible (and frankly when warmer and drier in the UK).

Climb at Go-Ape, a tree-top climbing course. I have a gift certificate from my birthday last year to still enjoy.

Do karaoke. This scares my silly and I want to give it a go.

Find some dance-event like when I did the silent disco a few years ago with my friend from Germany.

Visit the winter lights at Kew Gardens at the end of this year. Need to book this now was it’s a very popular event and had to close early this winter due to lockdown.

Walk Hadrian’s Wall. It’s a former defensive fortification of the Roman province of Britannia, begun in AD 122, located in the north of England. It’s 90 miles long, which I’m doing remotely right now, walking that distance over the next 35 days, with the hope to do it in situ later in the year when travel is allowed.

The added benefit of this project is that I’m feeling excited doing the research and planning for the activities themselves. Any ideas you have for me to add to my list would be greatly appreciated, especially for fun things to do early in the year when restrictions will be in place. And if you want to join me for a fun event this year, please reach out and suggest something.

2021 will pass (if you’re lucky; the alternative is not pleasant) like every other year. What would make it fun, satisfying, enjoyable, connecting, exciting, joyful, loving, fulfilling, gratifying for YOU?

Book a COMPLIMENTARY coaching session with me here for support in setting a direction for yourself this year. What would make you more effective and fulfilled at work and/or life?

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