Sometimes the smallest things make the biggest difference…

People are funny. What makes us tick, what gets us excited, what makes us mad and which things we place value on in our life varies so much from one person to the next. I guess that’s why I’ve always loved psychology – the learning is never done; people and their behaviours never fail to change, inspire and surprise.

I’m a funny little creature myself – I fully recognise that…I’m constantly thinking, always questioning and continually trying to understand people. I value relationships and being sociable – the way people treat each other is something that’s always been important and interesting to me. Because of this, the people and dynamics of a whole range of relationships in my life are valuable – I care alot and at times this can be a real plus and at others can be my downfall…
But then generally speaking I’ve always been a great a believer in the saying that ‘you get back what you put in’. Give alot to your friends / family / colleagues etc and one day, perhaps the good stuff will come back around. Relationships should be balanced – not always entirely 50/50 but at least 60/40 – and for me personally, it’s the small things that can shift that balance over time for better or for worse.

This post focuses on friendship. Without great people around you I truly believe you’ll only go so far in life. So how do you make sure you surround yourself with the best people and get what you need from a friendship while also taking the time to ensure you’re giving enough back? What are all the things that ensure both sides feel valued and what are small things that can cause them to breakdown and / or start to leave someone feeling unappreciated? Because let’s face it, we’ve all felt both sides before!

I’ve tried different ways of thinking through this subject including splitting all the ‘trys’ and ‘try not tos’ into separate lists – but then I realised they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Therefore what follows is literally as it comes out of my head.
I should also say I can only speak from my own experiences…but the messages are hopefully general enough that you, as a reader, will identify and get something from it in your own way – whatever that may be. But if you don’t and you really can’t bear to read on that’s no problem…leave it here and maybe even a comment telling me to ‘blog off!’(See what I did there?!) :). So here goes – my principles of healthy friendship…

Happy friend, sad friend, any friend
We all go through ups and downs in our lives and we hope as we experience the great times and go through the bad, our friends will be there for us in a way that we need. I know for example I’ve been to many weddings, been on various travels with people, been to countless birthday celebrations…but also I’ve supported people through devastations, heartbreaks, disappointments and disillusionments. I’m not perfect and I’m sure I could do even more than I do already, but I know that whether it’s a bright day, a rainy day or a downright torrential day that I’ll be there for all my friends…simply with an ear, a shoulder, a distraction and / or advice if it’s wanted. I don’t need someone to ask me – I keep me ears and eyes open for little (and big) clues and I’d be there in an instant when something important comes along.
Do I feel that people would all do the same in return? Yes for some but sadly a ‘??’ for others. Of course you aren’t there for people just so you can get support back – personally I do it because I never want anyone I know to feel lonely, isolated or unloved. But as you get older you begin to realise who the ‘yes’ people are and who the ‘question marks’ are… and you shift your priorities accordingly.

· Listening out for the clues of when someone might need your friendship, don’t wait to be explicitly asked.
· Reshuffling your ready made plans as much as is feasible (life of course gets in the way sometimes but some things are quite moveable).
· Thinking about how someone likes to be comforted (distraction / heart to heart / bevies / email etc etc) and offer up your time to do just that

· Taking all the support from your friend and giving next to nothing back. When was the last time you checked in on your friends to see how they’re doing?
· Ignoring it when seemingly unimportant things to you (but nonetheless important things to them) arise
· Lack of acknowledgment (little text, email, card, gesture etc) of the time they have taken to support you through the good, the bad and the downright ugly

Important vs. the unimportant
What seems small and trivial to one person may well be a big deal to others in your life…are you sure that you know your friends well enough to know when something means a lot to them? I personally believe that those who care for you should naturally know when something is important to you and should make every effort to share in it / support it even when they don’t feel the same way or place quite as much value on whatever it is. Here are just a few personal examples of recent ‘things’ for me:
· My blog…I know that around 30-40 have read each post but how many have seen it, found it fairly interesting and then not thought to acknowledge it in some small, tiny way? Those who know me will know I crave feedback as well as love the sharing of views, thoughts and perspectives.
· Organisation of what I thought to be a highly creative and generous gesture to friends…how many didn’t reply, showed no flexibility or showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm? For the effort that was going to go into it, enthusiasm was really a minimum requirement.
· New Years Eve – those who know me well should know it’s an important time for me…taking stock of a year gone by and trying to stay positive in looking forward to a new one. But even with all the lovely people I have in my life, year after year I rarely do something that’s not been driven / organised by me or rarely find many people around willing to compromise their plans just for one year for once celebrating with me…

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m more than aware that as isolated examples these will seem (and really are!) trivial but it’s more about what they represent to me and as friends, you’d hope people would ‘get’ that side to you. But in terms of values, I (for example) know people whose values range from tidiness to busying the mind; from control through to letting go; and from creative space to structured opportunities. I suppose what I’m saying is that as a true friend to someone, you understand all their weirdies and foibles but you support them anyway…after all our difference is what makes us who we are 🙂

· Knowing what makes your friends tick – you’re there for the important stuff in their lives…whether that’s ups, downs or in-betweens
· No judgements – just because it’s not something of value to you doesn’t make it any less worthy
· Don’t know, then ask – if you find you’re not sure of their ‘weirdies’ then you strive to find out. Just ask, read their Facebook, Twitter etc. Information is surely not an issue in this day and age!

· Trivialising the things that seem unimportant to you. I once had a friend whose wedding planning took over literally everything, so much so that she barely acknowledged I had a life outside of hers. For example, she dismissed my excitement about a holiday and didn’t ask how my recent birthday bash had gone…! One person’s ‘important thing’ does not have to trump another’s – there is room for both!

A good friend is able to sense when something might be a bit off in your life or if you’re feeling super excited about something. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting anyone should become the new Mystic Meg but with information at your fingertips now (Facebook is a prime example), it’s not entirely impossible to be aware of how the people in your life are feeling. And if they’re FB-phobes why not give them a quick call or text…you’ll quickly sense from that how someone is doing! I know from experience that some people need a huge amount of support and coaxing to reveal their true feelings and sometimes without that coaxing you would never know what goes on in their head. Are you really a friend if you only know their outer projection?? Equally I know people who are incredibly forthcoming with their feelings – so much so you can’t get a word in edgeways! But it’s about knowing someone’s style enough to ask if they need asking or listen when they need a listener.

· Picking up the phone / send a text / write a letter / check out Facebook etc when you sense that it’s been a while or that someone might be going through something
· Understanding how to get to the bottom of how someone feels, whether that be providing an ear / writing it down etc

· Relying on being explicitly told if a friend happy, sad, blue, contemplative etc…you could be waiting a LONG time for that to happen in some cases

When was the last time…
Can you remember the last time you sent a nice text / a little card / an email etc to each of your friends? Either just to say hello or to let them know how much you appreciate them being in your life? It sounds soppy but even the smallest of gestures can ensure your friendship stays balanced and people feel appreciated. If you’ve never really said it, how do people know how much you think of them? Thoughtfulness can be a thankless task with the wrong people…but with the right people it can go a long, long way 🙂

· People who send you unexpected little texts / calls / messages / gifts…usually when you’re in most need of it too!
· Those who do the smallest, most thoughtful gestures when you least expect it
· The friends who you know truly appreciate you – even if it’s only said / shown once in a decade

· Those who seemingly don’t appreciate the efforts you make to be there for them
· Looking back on the relationship, the friends who you cannot think of the last time they did something for you / organised a get together / text or called you without being prompted etc etc

Some conversations will inevitably be one-sided – there are times where someone needs to talk at length about their situation on a 90/10 split for good or for bad reasons. I’m always more than happy to listen and I like to be able to help people when they need it. But, ‘me,me,me’ conversations should most definitely be the exception and not the rule. For both sides to get the most of a conversation there has to be a balance between talking and listening…and that usually relates quite significantly to whether people have a degree of self-awareness or not. The same can be said for the person who tends to keep the conversations moving…I’ve met my fair share of people where it’s always left to me to ask the questions or fill the gaps. A good, healthy friendship should have a balance of conversation on a whole range of subjects and it’s both people’s responsibility to keep it moving and provide the ear.

· On the whole, a mix of conversation that both people have an interest in but an acknowledgement that on rare occasions, a situation will arise where the focus has to be solely on one person
· Being self-aware enough to perhaps acknowledge if you think you’ve hogged the conversation

· 90% of conversations are ‘me,me,me’ with absolutely no self-awareness of the fact
· Lazy conversationalists – those who leave you to do all the work and don’t give a lot back

And finally, but by no means least importantly – friends should be able to be honest and open with each other. I want the people in my life to tell me in a constructive way when I’m out of line / being an idiot / being brilliant / being a drama queen / doing something wrong etc etc. I don’t like brutalists (i.e. those who seem to pride themselves on ‘telling it how it is’) but I do appreciate well thought out honesty. In a true friend I want to be able to turn and ask for an honest perspective – even if it stings at first I need to have those people who will tell me the truth even when it’s hard…

· Those who give you an honest perspective but in a sensitive, thoughtful way
· Friends who can also genuinely take feedback as well as to give it – honesty cannot be one-sided
· Someone who knows you enough when to hold off the truth until you’re ready (it should never be permanently but I do believe there is a time and place where truth becomes destructive or unhelpful for now)

· If someone cannot bring themselves to tell you a truth because it’s too uncomfortable
· A brutal way of delivering a truth is not something to be proud of – pick your moment and pick your approach, especially if it’s a sensitive subject

And there we have it – my super-duper guiding principals 😉 I suppose as I come to the end of this I’ve realised something…just as I referred earlier to knowing what’s important to people, it’s often the case that what is important within a friendship and relationship will also vary hugely from person to person – this is more my take on what I consider to be important to me. For example, much of the above probably wouldn’t be all that relevant to a f-buddy situation…there’s only one essential element there 😉 But seriously, it’s up to your friends to know what makes you tick and try to support accordingly…and if they can’t, well maybe it’s a friendship that needs to be put on ice for a while! I do however believe there are a few simple lessons I’ve learnt along the way in trying to achieve balanced friendships and good karma:

1. True friends will be the ones who ‘get’ you. They are the ones who will ‘get’ when something is valuable to you, even if at face value it seems fairly trivial. They’ll pick up when you’re feeling happy and help you to celebrate but they’ll naturally sense when you’re feeling rubbish…In my view friendship isn’t about having to explicitly tell someone to be there for you, your friends should be those aware enough to do it without being asked.

2. Everyone to a certain extent fulfils a particular ‘role’ within groups – embrace it! Whether you’re the organiser, the party animal, the conversation filler etc etc be proud of that fact and enjoy it…it only becomes a problem when people around you start to take your talents for granted – it’s up to them to value and recognise your efforts if friendships are to continue successfully.

3. Try to take a regular ‘balance’ check. By this I mean how often do you check the balance of your relationships? We’re all so busy just living life that sometimes we can do a lot of taking from people without giving just a little bit back. When was the last time you did something nice, surprising and thoughtful for someone…just because you can? A small gesture or message is all it takes sometimes to show those you care about how much you appreciate them and all that they do in your life. Soppy I know but trust me, even the most feisty and seemingly hardened of people will love it J

4. If you’re not feeling the love, take a step back for a while. Everyone deserves to feel appreciated and if you get to a point where you’re not quite feeling it, it’s fine to take a step back. I figure one of two things will happen: either someone will realise and figure out why or…if they don’t, it probably tells you that at this point in time they’re too wrapped up in their own life to appreciate you. And lets face it, sometimes it’s likely to happen with work, kids, money, family etc. The difference with a good friend though is that once they get through the ‘mist’ they’ll pick up the phone, send an email etc and let you know you’ve been missed.

So, in concluding after this longer than usual post I’m going to refer to someone a little cleverer than I, who can summise intelligently within a quick one liner. Beethoven (!!) once said ‘Continue to be my friend, and you will always find me yours’ – since Beethoven was a pretty intelligent dude I think you should listen to him! But put simply – keep showing your friends / family / colleagues / partner etc etc the love, you never know when you might need you a good buddy 😉

How to lose without becoming lost…


I’ve come to the conclusion over the past few months that I have a lot to learn and that by writing about these important life lessons it may somehow help me to process / develop / accept. And so begins my first blog…You guys are the poor b*ggers who have to read this drivel 😉 I’ll be blogging about anything and everything…essentially whatever has been on my mind that day, week or month!

So I found out today that the leader of my current place of work is to leave. For many, this wouldn’t seem like anything out of the ordinary – organisations chop and change CEOs all of the time. But for me it has left me with a sense of loss and a slight feeling of panic. Our leader you see has been an inspiration to me – an example of someone who can work at a very high strategic level while keeping his feet firmly on the ground, someone who remembers the names of all those who work for him and always has a warm smile for them. The type of person who you know what his values are because they’re written all over his face, you know he’s genuine because his eyes and demeanour say so – there is a real feel of authenticity about him and you can’t help but warm instantly to that. This is a person who has managed to get the balance between leadership and staying ‘in tune’ with his followers right…something I am led to believe is a real rarity.

I think part of the reason I am feeling this particular change so significantly is because I came from a place of work before this where even the departmental leader didn’t know your name, let alone the Chief Exec. In fact the reason he didn’t know your name is because quite frankly, he didn’t really care what you did. You were just a tiny little cog in a big machine. Granted, my previous workplace was a much bigger organisation and it would be nigh on impossible for the CEO to know everyone but it was about much more than that. I never got a sense for who he was and what really drove him and hence never felt a particular affinity with him or the organisation he was leading. And that became the hallmark of the people who worked under him too – there was no real sense of curiosity or moral purpose in the corridors but rather a stale stench of cynicism and feeling unappreciated. A toxic atmosphere that if you stayed too long, would slowly eat away at your soul until you crumpled into a shell of your former self. Of course there were odd exceptions, most of whom I was lucky enough to work with in my immediate team… but one by one we left or moved elsewhere before the toxicity became too much and our careers became a lifetime of moaning and unfulfillment.

So when I joined my current place it was literally like a breath of fresh air. The building was brilliant and light, the people were friendly and there was a real buzz about the place. The sense of commitment and moral purpose was palpable and best of all, there were none (or realistically I should say ‘less’) of the hierarchies. Here was a place willing to give a relatively inexperienced person like me a real chance with my career and as a result I feel I’ve grown from strength to strength and confidence to soaring confidence. I wondered to myself what made this place so ‘different’ and I now attribute it to two main factors:

1. The setting of high expectations, the development of a ‘nurturing’ environment and the air of informality from the current CEO

2. The objective positioning of the organisation away from too much government control or politicising…

Both of of these things are about to change…And it fills me with a sense of trepidation… 

People within the organisation often talk of it as pre-xxxx and post-xxxx as if he came in and created some new era or new world. Certainly the resounding opinion is that he came in and made it a much better place and I know from being out in the field a lot that many external people attribute the success of our organisation to this person too. However, I now feel I’m going on as if he is some kind of god on earth and that’s not my intention nor is it true – no leader is ‘perfect’ or infallible and I’m sure there have been times when some have questioned decisions made at the top.

In fact the real test I believe of how well his vision and values have been instilled will be when he leaves… Only then can a true judgement be made on leadership skill. You see I’ve reached the conclusion that if someone truly is a great leader, then they will leave a legacy within their organisation that continues long after they are there at the forefront. Those around them will have been so affected and inspired by their drive, purpose and approach that they aim to emulate that and help to sustain the positive environment created by their leader…I know I certainly will be aiming to do just that but the real question is, will others want to do the same?!

However, the leaving of this great leader is also made worse by the change of the organisation to a more politicised, government driven environment. This worries me hugely as I felt that one of the reasons my previous workplace became so toxic was in part because politics and ‘agendas’ got in the way of the fundamentals…i.e. having an organisation that actually cares and nurtures its workforce. Everything became about point scoring and what the government wanted (or would give funding for) and not actually about what the person using the service wanted or needed. We became seen purely as servants of the government’s agenda, disinterested in what the person at the heart of it all wanted – the media gave us all a bad name and tarred us with the same brush and the leadership of the organisation wasn’t strong enough to fight back and stick up for us. So we (and the government) began to believe the hype – the workforce began to think ‘well if I get all this flack for actually doing my job, why bother doing anything at all?’ and then the media would give us (rightly so this time!) another going over… And so began a vicious and toxic circle of rhetoric and self-fulfilling prophecy.

So what does all of this tell me about leadership? What lessons can I take away from my current feelings of fear and anxiety? Well quite a lot actually…

1.   No matter how high you climb, always stay true to your values and keep them plain for people to see – stay true to who you are as a person even when others try to change you. Showing emotion and the ‘real’ you is never a weakness and should be something to be proud of.

2.   Remember the people you lead are ultimately the ones who help you to achieve all you achieve. If you don’t have time in the day for anything more, the least you can to do is to remember their name and throw a warm smile in the corridor.

3.   If you truly want an organisation to succeed and grow, ensure you instil your vision and values in those around you. And when eventually you do leave, be confident that when you are no longer there your legacy will continue.

4.   Try to find the balance when working within a government focussed environment between politics and keeping the people you serve at your heart – if one of the two has to slip, well then let it be the politics…perhaps you’re not cut out for that kind of environment anyway! You can continue to live life knowing at the very least you kept the ‘people’ interest firmly in your sight.

5.   Always strive to have a motivated and what I’d call ‘curious’ workforce and if you feel that slip, make it your number one priority to address. A toxic work environment is not good for anyone and it’s amazing how it can slowly creep up on you bit by bit…

6.   Finally, when you lose someone who inspires and motivates you – then you have a duty to find someone else to fill that gap. Sitting here feeling a little lost is not going to help me, I need to look for my inspiration elsewhere! And if I can’t find it…well, that ultimately will tell me something about the environment within which I work.

So as a closing remark at the end of my yabberings…Whichever way I look at it, the person to rely on is me. As much as I feel a little abandoned and lost right now, I do have faith that I’ll find a new path and a new person(s) to admire. The fact that I can still be incredibly inspired by someone and motivated to do well is a good thing in its own right – it shows I still have more to achieve, learn and strive for. So I’ll take a small comfort in that thought while I ride out the storm of an organisation in change…keeping my fingers crossed for better weather ahead and a remaining legacy of a vibrant and inspirational leader 🙂