Do you want to be you? (A positive spin on the GP career)

shutterstock_relax doc compress

For all those who’ve never been on this blog before, a very warm welcome to you. I used to post regularly on fairly random subjects, everything on life, love, and the universe. Of late I’ve been feeling that I want to look in the direction of my fellow professionals and offer my thoughts on what’s been happening and what the future may hold. I’ll also throw in some glimmers of hope in these dark days, like this video of a cat playing the piano—aiyznGQ

I challenge you not to smile!

There was a speech made by the chair of the Royal College of GPs in July 2017, suggesting that GPs and especially GP trainers should avoid scaring off new trainees from primary care by being negative about the profession. Now, there are a number of ways you could look at this. I think it is fair that we don’t want to put off young colleagues entering GP-land, especially since we’re not exactly flush with doctors at the moment. At the same time, suggesting that GPs should sugar coat the current issues and pressures of primary care, or try and put a positive spin on a very hard job, did not go down well with many GPs.


What makes a good job?

If you look at what factors play the biggest part in job satisfaction, they are consistent across the board of professions, from white-collar high finance to domestic worker. The key features are

  • Ability to influence outcomes
  • Ability to make decisions
  • Atmosphere of good teamwork
  • Support of ‘bosses’
  • Feeling of contribution
  • Feeling valued

Notice that pay does not play a significant part in this formula. In fact, the data shows that the greatest source of job dissatisfaction is not the pay packet, but the feeling of not being appreciated. It used to be the case that we doctors were held in high regard by those we serve i.e. our patients, and that there was a high level of autonomy in primary care, that we were trusted enough to make the best decisions we could in light of the knowledge and resources available to us. For many of us, this has changed quite dramatically.

The Shipman enquiry has probably had the biggest effect on how the profession is perceived. Almost overnight, a feeling of distrust in GPs was cultivated, then actively encouraged. Politicians in particular found that they could make great capital by dumping on GPs, as well as using the popular press to sensationalise the whole affair. The fact that Dr Shipman was a well respected GP who hid a monstrous appetite for murder made for huge and unwelcome publicity. As humans and as doctors we wonder what could drive such urges and can only offer sympathy to those whose relatives suffered at his hands. Some feel that if he had never been discovered, the profession wouldn’t have undergone such a crisis of trust, but I think this is unlikely.

There has always been a strong element of jealousy from the political classes, consistently the least trusted of professions, of the medical profession. The Shipman affair was merely a catalyst that provided the opportunity to ‘rein in’ those pesky uncontrolled GPs with their bloated (and imaginary) pay packets and 4 hour lunch break. What has happened in the name of ‘public safety’ is that the authorities rushed to remove all 6 factors of the job satisfaction ‘formula’ from primary care.


A deliberate elimination of GP Job Satisfaction?

Support from those in Health Boards or LMCs, whose previous role was to ensure that we were effectively resourced to carry out our jobs, suddenly became the police force of primary care. Regulations multiplied overnight. Suddenly guidelines and protocols were ruling our professional lives, providing nothing more than cover for those in management to hide behind when things go wrong. Quick and easy tools of finger-pointing; ‘Dr _________ didn’t follow the guidelines and the patient died/ got cancer/ lost a limb/ (insert adverse outcome)’. But even if guidelines are followed to the letter, they are of no benefit to us the doctor in the event of a complaint:

‘Oh but they’re just guidelines, not a replacement for clinical judgement.’ Unfortunately this is the refrain from those in the ivory tower offices, far from the realities and uncertainties of current primary care. Guidelines are ropes that either are formulated to make us tow the line, or to be hanged with. Distrust and suspicion are now the primary instincts of management and it has smashed morale. We GPs are no longer trusted to make decisions that we feel are in the best interest of our patients, or that if we did, we are not supported in those decisions. Why would anyone, much less a highly trained professional, want to continue in such a manner?

The most successful GPs understand and nurture the team connections about them and they know that without the team pulling in the same direction, and supporting one another, the job becomes immeasurably harder. The literature is clear on this, the organisation needs to be clear on its goals and focusing on making sure every team member gets to contribute and thrive. Dysfunction at a practice can easily be sensed. I’ve worked at practices that function very well as a unit, and at practices where it seems everyone is at loggerheads. It is obvious which ones get the work done and with least stress.

As stress grows, the instinct to close ranks and take a self-protective stance is understandable. We all know how when the going gets tough, communication becomes strained, finger-pointing is more common, people look to dig their heels in and focus on their own priorities. This is human instinct, but it is self-defeating behaviour. And there is very little resource for GP practice to work on team building skills. Some forward thinking practices have taken this on board and followed the example of corporate structures that undergo regular team-building work. Examples of this include workshops, to weekend retreats to re-establish the central ‘mission statement’ of the practice.

Such activities have often been fodder for comedy in the past (paintballing, anyone? Who can shoot the practice manager in the nether regions most often?!) and yet it has been shown that the building and maintenance of strong inter-personnel relationships has been vital in the success in private enterprises, public bodies, and the military. In case anyone feels this is not relevant to primary care, just ask some of your colleagues who will freely admit that every day they’re in a battle. The problem is, many of them are losing because there’s no battle plan to follow, and no back-up when they’re wounded. The military term for a soldier left unsupported and unarmed in the face of an overwhelming force is ‘cannon fodder’. Don’t think for one second that we don’t have colleagues who feel they face this every day.


Are we still valued as a profession?

For the most part our patients do value what we provide. I find most of my patient contacts will end in a ‘thankyou’ and it’s very gratifying. Not just in an ego stoking way, but because it’s a natural human instinct to want to feel appreciated for the efforts we put in. Studies show this is one of the biggest contributors to job satisfaction. Of course there will be exceptions, and unfortunately we tend to remember the ‘bad’ contacts long after the good, even though the latter numbers far outweigh the former. This is not new for the profession. What seems to have changed is the overt contempt that has developed from those that ought to know better. We see increasing resentment from secondary care that we as GPs have become less likely to act as community house officers for hospital teams.

Complaints are on the increase, but what pushes the boundaries of the resilience of our GP colleagues is the fact that other health professionals seem much more willing to act as though we are there to do there every bidding, and feel aggrieved when we point out that this is not why we are here. When I return a request for some various test or follow up that should be done by the hospital team, phone calls or letter follow with increasing levels of anger and disdain. Cries of

‘How can you do this to the patient?’

‘They will suffer if you don’t carry out x, y, or z action’

And the famous

‘All the other GPs do it!’

Having been in healthcare for 20 years I don’t think I have seen as many deliberate assaults on our professionalism from within the NHS as there have been in recent years, and this has been a significant strain on the ethical and moral compasses within the profession. Should I or should I not just do this ‘for the sake of the patient’? Of course this actually translates as ‘should I or should I not do this for the sake of a quiet life?’

These requests need to be seen as nothing more than that – requests. They are not within our requirement or contract to carry out, and I have always advised a politely worded refusal letter should be in everyone’s toolbox. It needs to clear that we are not trained monkeys and that our professionalism needs to be respected once again. Since we have little or no representation within the hospital setting, we have no voice when it comes to the decision making processes in secondary care. Work that should be completed in the hospital is increasingly fobbed off to the primary care setting. What needs to be recognised is that the culture of ‘I sent a letter to the GP to do it therefore I have washed my hands of responsibility’ will only end when every GP is comfortable with the following phrase.


“I’m NOT here to do YOUR job.”

This has been traditionally a hard attitude to take. We instinctively want to help, and we want to further our patients’ cause by getting things done for them. We are also aware that secondary care has its own personnel and funding problems and are overstretched. But we cannot fix a poorly designed system by making the individual parts take on more strain. We have to value ourselves, our time and sanity and make those values clear, before those outside of primary care begin to value us as fellow professionals rather than servants. This might not have been an issue in the ‘olden days’ of general practice (and I have been around long enough to remember those days!) when we had the leisure of being able to go that extra mile to get things done because it was possible to do so. The sheer volume of work in modern medical practice has made that impossible.

We could complain that patients are too demanding or not resilient enough, or now live in a consumerist culture where everything should be available immediately for free, but the main issues come from within the profession. An undervalued and underappreciated workforce will not work to full productivity for any length of time. It has been shown again and again in organisations of all sizes and functions.

Which brings us back to how we see ourselves and the future of the profession. It is difficult not to feel pessimistic when changes do not occur at a systemic level that will make primary care a sustainable long term career for a junior doctor. Thus the trainee’s exposure to general practice becomes a far less positive experience because we GPs are not actors. If we are a tired, stressed and weary workforce, this will be evident to anyone who sees us. Trainees are not stupid. We don’t need to tell them that it’s very hard to be a GP, they can see it for themselves. No amount of positive spin or gloss can change that. They don’t want to be like you, because you can’t articulate what it is that would make them want to do what you do, be who you are. Which means, it’s quite likely that you don’t want to be you either. I can understand this, because when I suffered from burnout, the last person I wanted to be was me.


So what can be done?

The picture looks distinctively pessimistic as falling numbers of doctors and many who are left suffering issues of mental illness and substance abuse. Burnout rates are climbing. It will take a long time to replenish the pool and the appetite for ‘importing’ doctors to fill the gap appears to have lessened over the years.

I believe that we do have the option of creating a great future not only for the profession but for ourselves as the sustainers of the service. This doesn’t happen by big policy changes or dramatic steps, although a large shift in funding to follow the workload would be very beneficial and is essential to recognise that the NHS of the past is unsustainable. However what is needed most is a mindset shift to move away from the old patterns of workload. Primary care is at the coalface of healthcare provision in the UK and the vast majority of that provision occurs in our offices. That will never change. It is true that we need more resources to meet the challenges ahead, but we can follow the examples of those who are creating successful futures for themselves, their teams and their patients to channel our current resources more effectively.

  • Setting a very clear vision and intention for the future. Instead of grinding out each day and hoping to make it to Friday, we need to establish clearly what we want to achieve as successful GPs. What should be the objectives to aim towards? Everyone within the team must have a stake in this, otherwise it just becomes someone else’s dream. There is nothing less fulfilling than making someone else’s dreams come true while ignoring your own.
  • Valuing our skills. We have a very powerful set of skills as GPs and we can only refine them by concentrating on them. Spreading ourselves too thinly will mean losing the very essence that makes us invaluable. Being able to articulate clearly, ‘This is what I do. This is what I’m good This is why I do it.’ Only when we stand up and recognise our core values will other people outside (and within) the team start doing the same.
  • Valuing our time. We have the same 24 hours in the day as everyone else. How to make sure those hours are used effectively? By focusing on the activities that provide the most value. This means cutting out the unimportant ‘tasks’ and the agendas foisted upon us by others. Learning to say ‘no’ effectively is one of the top 3 skills of the most productive people. As individuals and as a team, our priorities have to take precedence otherwise nothing will get done, or will only get done badly.
  • Self-betterment. If we want any chance of a long and bright career which we can look back on with pride, we need to upgrade our skills constantly. This doesn’t mean go to every CPD meeting that appears in the inbox. Instead we must keep time aside to grow spiritually and develop our interpersonal relationships in the workplace (team building) but most importantly at home. Quality of home life directly and inextricably affects quality of work. Ignore the first and both will suffer. Instead of reading about the latest wonder inhaler for COPD, read about how to strengthen your relationships and put that into practice. This job cannot be done alone.
  • Relish the complaints. People will complain about you no matter what you do or don’t do. Accept this will happen and relish it. Don’t hope that is won’t. The amount of time wasted in dealing with complaints pales in comparison to the amount of time and energy wasted worrying about them, especially the ones that haven’t happened yet. Be thorough, but accept that you can’t cover every angle every time.
  • Find ways of making the job a little bit more fun. Get your team to cheer you up when you’ve had a tough clinic. Put entertaining videos on in the staff room (see cat video above). The only way to thrive in an environment is if you enjoy it. It’s also the only way that upcoming doctors will want to be you.


For those who want to know more about what it takes to lead a long and successful career, check out my ebook ‘Superdoc – the 4 core competencies of successful GPs’ on today, and don’t forget to subscribe to the blog.


Wishing you love, health and success on your journey,

Dr Mithu Rahman

Why we all discriminate (and it’s not why you think)


The lines are the same length, but the illusion is that the one above is longer.

It’s an old illusion and as I’m sure you’ve seen it before, you can measure them with a ruler and prove they’re the same.

So why do you keep looking at them with the nagging feeling that they’re not?

[photo monkey thinking]


It’s all to do with your instinctive brain and your reasoning brain. Prof Steve Peters goes into this in great detail in his excellent book ‘The Chimp Paradox’, and it describes how our brain has two separate parts when it comes to making decisions. Your reasoning brain is your human side, the part that reasons things through, uses logic to make its decisions, and generally takes its time. For most major decisions, ‘human side’ does the job of taking all the evidence, weighing it up then directing a decision.

Sometimes, however, the human side feels a bit lazy. For some people, this happens a lot. When that happens, the instinctive brain, otherwise known as your ‘Chimp side’ takes over.

[photo people running from bear]

What does that mean? Simply, that Chimp acts on impulse, it doesn’t want to do the boring job of ‘working through stuff’ and simply wants to make the decision and then move on. Our inner Chimp was useful back when we were cavemen and there was a lot of danger about, so sitting around reasoning whether to run away from the bear wouldn’t have been useful. In general there are not so many dangers nowadays, but Chimp still forms a major part of the thinking process.

The problem is, Chimp’s level of education is the same as it always has been, ie, takes things at face value. One of those values is, ‘different is bad’ and the tendency to see the world as such is emphasized by family, peer groups, media and so on. There’s a saying, ‘People like people like them’ and people indeed will seek out company that looks, behaves and holds similar views to them. It’s obvious when you think about it. Who wants to spend all their time around other people who don’t agree with them? It would be exhausting.

Therefore, if you’re interviewing two candidates for a job, and they both have exactly the same CV and experience, but one of them is black and the other is white, and your entire world experience has taught you to trust one and not the other, what do you think will happen?

The worst thing is that while we know that we should not be judging by the differences we see , that is , literally, face value, that instinctive part of the brain is screaming at us, ‘but they are different – just look at them! Pick the one you like!!!’ That’s what’s happening when you look at those lines in the diagram. You know they are the same. We all know they are the same.


[photo black and white hands holding]

It takes an enormous amount of willpower to subdue that impulse and be entirely objective. As I’ve discussed in other posts, we only have a limited amount of willpower in an entire day and once it’s used up, it’s just quicker to take the easy option, the one that involves less thinking, the one that is most comfortable and consistent with our world view.

This is true for every kind of discrimination that exists, be it racial, sexual, disability, you name it. They are all just another word for different. So don’t feel bad if you’ve been discriminated against, it’s not that they’re necessarily a bad person. We’ve just got a few more thousand years of brain evolution to go.

You also shouldn’t feel bad if you see that someone is trying to treat you the same, but you think deep down they don’t instinctively want to. You can’t change that instinct – but you can help them, by acknowledging that they are trying, and respect that effort.

In the meantime, help the process along with peace, love, and understanding. That’s a language every culture understands.

Want to take back control of you day? Here’s 3 little tips that will change everything. (This will only take 5 minutes, I promise you!)


[photo woman looks at clock in panic]

Just a quick one today, but how often do you feel that you’re not getting your day under control? No matter how well you try and plan your day out, and you know what things you need to do so you can look back on your day and feel satisfied, there always seem to be things that get in the way? Or how about, other people seem to get in the way of you? Sound familiar?

Isn’t it always the way you need something done by a certain time, or that you might be planning to meet someone at a certain time, but they run late and it throws off your whole schedule? Which means you run late for the next part of your schedule, or worse, you can’t do the next thing you had planned? Doesn’t it seem that other people never really value your time as much as you do?

Of course in reality, by blaming others for an outcome or lack thereof, we give up our personal responsibility and control of the situation. I cover this in another blog in more detail, but suffice to say, good results will never come when we persistently blame outside influences for bad results. Therefore the first thing we should always be thinking when things run late, is how have I contributed to this lateness and what could I do to prevent it happening? That’s not a mindset that most people have, but it’s what leaders think.


[photo man running in a hurry]

You see, I used to have a bad habit of turning up to things just a little bit late, maybe just by a minute or a few minutes, but it was never on time. And over time, I developed something of a reputation of this. Obviously this was bad. I wasn’t late because of any big emergency, I simply didn’t organise myself well enough. So of course people knew they couldn’t trust me to be on time, and this is obviously not a good thing. I wasn’t respecting other people’s schedules, so I had no reason to expect them to take my time seriously either.

So after reading around time management I found a very useful tip that changed everything. You see, if you tell somebody you would meet them at 10 o’clock, you may well fully intend to meet them at 10 o’clock, and they may have good intentions too. But for whatever reason, for the majority of people, 10 o’clock means “somewhere around 10 o’clock”, or more accurately, “sometime a bit after 10 o’clock”. Imagine if you have three meetings in a day and each one started a few minutes late, by the middle of the day you will see that time has been lost bit by bit.

This is what I started doing. I asked people to meet me at 9.55am.

You might wonder, what difference is that going to make? But you would be amazed at the effect. 9.55am is a far more precise time than 10 o’ clock in people’s minds, it just gives off the impression, “he’s precise about his timing, I’d better be precise too”. Four times out of five, people are absolutely on time or early for their appointment with me, because they now understand I value my time, even those 5 minutes before 10 am.

Of course this only works if I’m on time too! The good thing is, the same mental triggers of precision kick in for me also. While I used to be frequently late for a 10am meet, I’m seldom late for 9.55am. If you don’t believe me, just try it for a few days and see the difference it makes. You end up wasting so much less time, and your value from other people goes sky-high. I just wish I’d heard of this before.

[photo spiral clock]


The second staggeringly simple trick to taking enormous amounts of stress off my mind when trying to make my day run smoothly is simply, “add 5 minutes” and everything just flows. I have a somewhat stressed friend who starts work at 9am, and is always feeling harassed at her work place, especially in the mornings. I asked her how long it takes to drive in. She says immediately – 25 minutes. I next asked her, what time do you usually leave the house. Guess the answer? 8.35am.

It should be brutally obvious what the problem is but I spell it out to her anyway.

‘If you are arriving in your car park at 9am, which mathematically is exactly what will happen, how can you possibly be ready to start your work day at 9am? By the time you’ve found a parking space, got through the front door, waited for the lift, got to your desk, turned on your PC, opened your briefcase, plugged in your phone charger, grabbed your coffee etc etc., what time are you actually physically ready to start doing some work?’

Embarrassed answer -“About 9.10am.”

No wonder she’s stressed out for the whole day, she’s starting 10 minutes behind, she’s rushing to catch up and gets into meetings unprepared (and late), and it’s all totally unnecessary.

Most of what we do day-to-day, we’ve done before, we can do on auto pilot, and we know how long it will take. If I know it will take 75mins to get from bed to front door, I get up 80mins beforehand. When there’s traffic in the road, and there always will be, both metaphorically and literally, it doesn’t matter, I have time in hand because I took ownership of it. Like I said, everything just flows. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself. It takes practice, but just see how much the stress dissipates as a result. It’s amazing.

And finally, for those of you who couldn’t possibly envision getting up 5 minutes earlier in the morning, here’s the tip that will solve everything.

[photo woman sleeps peacefully]


That’s right. Go to bed 5 minutes earlier.

Have a happy, stress-free and glorious weekend everyone

How to DOUBLE your love, BOMB PROOF your relationship, and be the ENVY of every one


[photo couple]

I’ve been married to the same magnificent lady since 2005, and there are so many things I wish I’d known back then that would have made the path smoother and easier. But I’m glad that we have the chance to love each other each day, and I hope that everyone either in or starting a relationship has the opportunity to build something great, something wonderful and empowering. Your partner is the one who is the source of your strength, not a promoter of weakness. This is something you want to last for years and years, so here are a few ideas that experience has taught me, and if you focus on them, expect amazing things in your relationship


1)      Plan, plan, plan!

Consider this a 20-year process. Do you honestly think you can start a 20 year process with no form of plan in mind? Yet that is exactly the mindset of most people getting into a long-term relationship (LTR). Think of every great achievement or success in your life – did they happen by accident? Even small achievements? Can you bake a cake by throwing some flour and sugar in the oven and hope for a cake at the end? Your LTR needs both of you to sit together, with a glass of wine if you want, and put together, on paper, the principles that guide your relationship. These are the big goals, the things you both want today, and will want in 2, 5 10 and 20 years time. They are timeless and don’t change from day to day. This takes some thinking about, together, at the beginning, when everything seems possible. Don’t just drift along like a rudderless boat. You’re a cruiseliner which refuses to deviate from its course, with both of you at the helm.


2)      The individual plan.

There are reasons you selected your partner, why they are the one who stood out from all the others. Are those reasons based on solid character, or flimsy behaviours that can disappear like mist? Make a list of all the things that make your partner ‘the one’, and keep it somewhere safe and accessible, so when the going gets tough, and it will, you can pull it out and know that you’ve made the right decision to stick with him/her. You love them for what they stand for now, not for what they might be in the future. Do you want a partner, or a ‘project’? (Hint: Don’t choose the latter.)


3)      Love is a verb, not a noun.

Doing love is not the same as being in love. How many couples, especially new couples, regale you with stories about how ‘madly in love’ they are, yet if asked what they do to create that love, they’ll often look blank, with the best available response being, ‘do? Uh… it’s just there.’ Love is about doing the things needed to create love. It is not a feeling. How you feel can change within minutes, seconds even, never mind years. Do you think you can sustain a ‘feeling’ of love for 20 years? Feelings change, but the ‘actions of love’ endure. Your partner will change, and so will you. Ever hear a woman say, ‘He’s not the same man I married’? Of course he isn’t! And they’re not the same woman either. Do you think you’re the same person you were 5 years ago? Last year?  You must prepare to fall in love over and over again, to a different person wrapped in the same, subtly developing shell.


4)      Be together.

You may find this astonishing, but couples who stay together, do stuff together. There’s nothing more important than nurturing your life together. Do as many little things together you can, even if it’s ‘boring stuff’, you can make anything interesting with a special person beside you. It’s more important than the big things. Reinforce sections 1) and 2) with each other often, the promises that you made at the height of your love, because you want them to stand for something, for always.


5)      Know the boundaries.

You may think this is obvious, but not necessarily. Whether either of you have been in a relationship(s) before, I guarantee you do not know where the line is unless you have discussed it. Don’t wait, and don’t gamble. The currency of any relationship is trust, and once lost is the hardest thing to get back.


6)      Never, ever assume.

Communication is more important than any other factor in your successful LTR. To have one, you must change your mindset from ‘I want this…’ to ‘We want this…’ and you cannot know what you both want unless you have sought to understand your partner. Listen, listen, and listen some more. You cannot choose your own opinion as more valid than your partner’s, and you must not assume that you have understood. Don’t believe me? Plan a conversation lasting less than 5 minutes, where both parties have 5 key points they each want to get across to the other, that the other party doesn’t know about. Then 30 minutes after the conversation, write down what you think the 5 points were that your partner really wanted you to know. Then compare. And prepare to be really disappointed. The key here, is always say what you mean, and always mean what you say.


7)      Problems, problems.

It is said that life is a series of problems punctuated by crises. Don’t hope to avoid problems. Expect them. Now you don’t have to face them alone. Be supportive of your partner, because their problems are your problems, but together your joint solutions will be better. You’re a team. You’re in charge of the ship together. Little problems will not blow you off course, and crises are the storms which you’ll weather together.


8)      Never, ever, badmouth your relationship outside of the relationship,

no matter in what shape or form. You might think it’s a small ‘joke between friends’ when you put your partner down, even in the smallest way, but it’s a cancer that will grow and grow. Don’t let this happen. Remind everyone instead of the things you enjoy each other, the little things that make your relationship special. Not as a form of one-upmanship, but as one of the acts of love described above. Warm words warm your heart when it needs it the most. Even if they’re not with you, act as though they are. It’s the ultimate respect for your relationship.


Relationships are tough, they are a marathon, not a sprint. Work on your fitness every day if you want to win the race.

Have a great day, everyone, and love the relationships in your life.

So long Piers Morgan


[photo Piers]

Love him or loathe him, you must have heard of him. Piers Morgan, former (and youngest ever) editor of a UK national newspaper the Daily Mirror, and until recently, chat show host on one of America’s biggest TV networks, has found himself looking for another gig after said show was cancelled due to falling ratings. This was commented on at some length in the media both here and in the US due to the high profile nature of the show, which was previously hosted by the interviewing legend that was Larry King for many years before he retired.


Jeremy Clarkson very recently wrote that Piers lost his job because ‘everyone hates him’. It’s probably an exaggeration, I certainly don’t hate Piers Morgan, mainly because that would elevate him to a level of importance in my life that he simply doesn’t occupy. Then again, Clarkson has a long standing feud going on with Morgan so I can understand his views.


I overheard a comment on a BBC show reviewing the newspapers just after the story broke, and the gentleman was heard to say that he hoped that Piers Morgan was axed not because he was British, but because he was awful at interviewing. Morgan himself described his technique as ‘provocative’ for those whose views he opposed, where other parties felt he was simply argumentative. For the guests he liked, he was reported to take on a more genial approach (‘sycophantic’ is how it was described by others). The commentator did raise some interesting issues on the art of interviewing and I’m going to use some examples via Piers Morgan to help you, the reader, reassess some of your communications with people you like, but also people you may not like.


1)      As Monty Python once pointed out, an argument involves an exchange of views providing a rational counterpoint in positions, not just the automatic gainsaying of the opposing party’s views. In English, you will get nowhere arguing with someone just by telling them ‘you’re wrong’. Ever get into those kinds of arguments, even with (or especially with) people you care about? How far did that get you?  To have a productive discussion with someone you disagree with, you have to know your views but also be able to explain them in a way that  recognises the other person has a viewpoint, and that you have taken those views into account while holding your own views. Morgan was famous for opposing the use of guns, something that I actually agree with him on, but his audience in the majority love their guns, and he never really acknowledged that they had a right to their opinion. It’s like going to someone’s house and telling them all their furniture is rubbish. It doesn’t matter even if you’re right, and even if they know in their hearts you’re right, you probably aren’t going to get many more invitations. To successfully create a dialogue, you have to listen first. This takes some practice, as nearly everyone out there wants firstly to be heard. They want their message to be the loudest. Loudest is not necessarily most effective. Morgan’s pro-gun lobby guest was a total jerk and was very practiced at shouting, but he certainly couldn’t make an effective case.


2)      If you’re only interested in your own views, you may describe yourself as ‘opinionated’. Everyone else will describe you as a jerk. I saw an interview where not only did Morgan not agree with his guest but made a habit of talking over them. If you want to irritate someone to the point that they will punch you in the face, just have a conversation with them, and interrupt them every time they are halfway through their sentence. Then do this every time they open their mouth. It drives people mad, with good reason. You are putting your own opinion above that of the other person, and no-one likes that. Have you ever been interrupted while in full flow, say by a phone going off? How does that make you feel? If someone talked over you every time you wanted to say something, how much empathy do you have with that person by the end, even if you actually agree on something?


3)      I learned this in a drama class I once took. We did an exercise where for the whole conversation, we had to follow someone’s statement with another prefixed by ‘Yes, and…’. This exercise was part of establishing rapport with a fellow actor which allows the dialogue to flow more effectively. Notice how with these two small words, I can communicate that I’ve acknowledged the other person’s view in the discussion, and I indicate that I will include their view in my own point coming up. The opposite of this is one the world’s favourite and least productive words, which is ‘But…’. Again a very small word, which subtly indicates ‘I hear you, however I discard everything you’ve just said in favour of my view which is…’ When you’re in conversation watch out for the use of the word ‘But’ and see how it makes you feel, especially when the other person says it following something you’ve said. Do you feel that other person really empathises with you, or that your opinion is worth less than theirs?


4)      Our commentator mentioned above that Morgan had a habit of being way too chummy with guests he liked, or rather, guests he wanted to be liked by. I refer to this as ‘sucking up’, or trying too hard to be agreeable to the other person’s viewpoint in an effort to appear to be on their side. In America interviews that go this way are often referred to as ‘fluff pieces’, which to my understanding refers to people who work in the, shall we say, the ‘adult entertainment industry’ (Google ‘fluffers’ for full details). I saw this in action in a documentary where Morgan visited Dubai, and seemed to spend way too much time sucking up to rich people in an attempt to get noticed or to get an invite to an exclusive party and so on. It’s generally considered that by agreeing with everything someone says you’ll be seen to be ‘on their wavelength’, so to speak. This is not necessarily so. In fact, the ‘stars in your eyes’ or ‘hero worship’ approach doesn’t particularly go down well, or really only for very insecure people. These people will generally drain your emotional energy, and you should stay well away.


How does this help us in the art of good conversation and communication skills? There are many factors to good communication, way more than I can cover here today, but the takeaways from this are

1)      Listen, and listen some more. It’s a skill that requires cultivation. You have 2 ears and 1 mouth. Use them in that proportion

2)      Avoid interruptions and distractions in an important conversation. Suppress the instinct to ‘butt in’ even though the urge may be really strong. Practice with a loved one, give them 5 minutes to talk and then you take 5 minutes, with neither of you allowed to interrupt the other for any reason.

3)      Go for 24hrs during which time you will avoid using the word ‘but’. It’s another skill, and you will sound like someone who listens and understands, and people love that.

4)      Have a viewpoint based on a wide variety of sources. If you sound informed, people will listen to you. Make a point of conversing with other informed people and see how your horizons expand. Take yourself out of your ‘opinion’ comfort zone.

Most importantly, avoid national newspapers. You know what these editors are like. Good luck in the job hunting Piers.

Here comes the rain again


[photo woman with umbrella]

As I write, we in the UK are in the midst of the wettest winter for 250yrs or so, and it’s pretty much the only thing in the news right now. So it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that the rain has caused a fair few problems in parts of the country and for the last few weeks we’re reminded of some very sad pictures of destroyed homes and buildings, people sheltering in temporary accommodation, streets turned into rivers. Not to mention lots of very irate people, understandably when you’ve suffered a great loss.

I can’t help notice whenever there’s an interview on TV with a victim the storms, almost invariably the question comes up of ‘Who’s fault do you think this is?’ – to which various answers come up, which I’ve categorised as follows

1)      The Government – ie the authorities are supposed to protect us and are not or haven’t responded quickly enough

2)      The Army or emergency services – those who are bringing supplies or sandbags to the areas affected

3)      The Corporations – faceless organisations that contributed to global climate changes that led to extreme weather conditions

4)      God

Now you may have your own views on who should have done what and when. If I were a homeowner whose house was full of water right now and completely unliveable, I’d be feeling quite hard done by right now. Thankfully although I’ve faced various adversities in my life this is not one of them. I did however, at those periods in my life, also look around and think, ‘who can I blame for this?’ It’s understandable, it’s an easy response, and it takes the burden of responsibility from my shoulders.

One thing I’ve learned from my research that people have a different way of looking at events that occur in their lives. When something bad happens, it’s invariably due to ‘bad luck’ or outside influences. However if something good happens, then in some way, they’ve had a hand in that good fortune even if that couldn’t really have been the case. It’s an interesting psychology that tends to be permeate not only into personal but also business psychology, and it has been shown in many studies. Why should that be? Is it simply that they are wired to explain all random acts in this way, or they’re led to believe this from past life experiences?

Back to news reporting and finding the person to blame in all this adversity. There might be some catharsis in this, and it allows our reporter to turn back to the camera and conclude that if someone had done something (more pertinently, someone else) then the situation would be different. Obviously no-one could have predicted how severe the weather was going to be this month (or if they did, it wasn’t widely reported). Even if they had, there’s no accounting for extreme and uncontrollable events. I don’t think any of our victims told the TV guys that it wasn’t anyone’s fault but one of those things that we simply have to deal with. Or if they did it probably didn’t make the news. Selective journalism? Surely not?

Where I’m going with this is that the successful people in life with a strong mindset, recognise 2 things.

1)      Random events are just that.

2)      They take ‘ownership’ of events, ie their decisions in life have contributed to what occurs in their lives, good and bad.

You might ask, how can anyone take ownership of random events, such as the weather? Obviously you can’t, but the decision of how to deal with those events is entirely within your personal sphere. I’m reminded of a story of a lady whose child was born with a severe learning difficulty which of course was deeply distressing for the family. However, by meeting other families facing the same difficulties, forming and running a support group, travelling all over the country lecturing and supporting  others on parenting skills and meeting experts and celebrities with similar problems, she has spoken about how blessed she is to have brought so many interesting and strong people into her life and raised valuable funds and awareness for disabled children. She knows that her son’s life would have been easier for him if he hadn’t been disabled, but she also knows her life has changed and been enriched in ways she could never have imagined before. She could have sat on her hands and railed at the world at how this terrible thing had happened to her, but she took ownership instead. It’s an amazing story, and this lady had no special teaching or lecturing skills beforehand, nor a big group of people in her life who were expert at dealing with sick children.

The takeaway from this story

1)      We can’t always predict what will happen in our future

2)      By being decisive, we have a better chance of predicting our own future

3)      By owning our decisions, we retain control of how we feel about our future.

Too many people give away their control too quickly because it absolves responsibility and it’s the easy way to go. But the ‘reactive person’ will always leave their feelings at the whims of other people or outside events. Choose instead to be the ‘proactive person’ who retains their own power. It’s a much healthier way to go, and it’s the way of the leader, not the follower. So go out there and be a leader today. Otherwise, you can always blame it on the rain.

Thanks for stopping by everyone, and have a great day.

You’re no better than a Blackberry!

[photo Obama selfie with Merkel]

Many of you will know that a last year, the high street store Jessops went under. For those not in the UK, Jessops was a specialist camera shop that has been around for 75 years. My dad, a big camera buff, bought many products from them in his time. It went the way of HMV, Woolworths, and many other stores for fairly obvious reasons including the internet, and supermarkets selling similar products for much cheaper. Nowadays, the camera market is split in to broadly 3 categories – high end (expensive) big SLRs, compact pocket sized cameras (cheap), and mobile phone cameras.

Because Jessops never really entered into the mobile market, they had to rely on shifting large volumes of the generally cheap compact cameras to keep a business going, but the demand for these has dropped off dramatically in the last few years, and I’m sure you know why. Pretty much everyone, even kids these days, are walking around with a smartphone in their pocket that packs a 5mega pix or better camera. Why bother with a separate compact? So now, there are really only 2 categories of camera. And Jessops couldn’t sell enough SLRs to stay afloat.

For the most part, the mobile cam does what it needs to do. My Sony phone takes really nice photos for Facebook and even  just about good enough for a computer screen. But I also own an SLR with a big lens, much heavier but with incredibly good results, so this is the one that goes on holiday with me in the main. But SLRs make up only a small part of the market, because most people are content with their mobile for their snaps.

Problem is, phone cams are pretty rubbish in low light, any slightly fast moving object, anything requiring a flash etc etc. My friend has recently invested in an SLR and, while a self-confessed amateur, recently posted some recent pics he took and I think they’re great. The outstanding difference between them and the photos he used to take on his iphone is the clarity, and the ability to focus on the subject while the background generally remains just that – background. That’s because you can, with a little expertise, tweak an SLR to take great pics, and nowadays they’re so clever they can do most of that work for you anyway.

And that’s what I noticed is the primary difference between an mobile cam and an SLR. The electronics in the mobile simply aren’t sophisticated enough to distinguish between the subject you really want to focus on, and what is just background ‘stuff’. So it tries to focus on everything it sees. For many people, this will do, but it’s just not even close to the quality of the SLR. he megapixel may be similar, but despite what the salesman tells you, megapixels alone do not guarantee you a good photo. The superiority of the SLR is down to the lens, its ability to focus on what’s important.

So why am I banging on about the technical qualities of cameras? Because I can now bring us back to my opening statement, that we collectively are no better than a mostly average mobile camera. It should now be clear why this is but just to bring it all together,

1) We have an unnerving tendency to settle for ‘average’ quality in far too many things.

2) We struggle, generally, to focus on what’s important.

If you look at the real success stories around us, those household names who’ve made it big, they are the exact opposite of these 2 tendencies. They have an innate ability to focus on the target, and they never settle for average. I confess that I have been known to lose focus on the goal myself. Maybe you can relate to this. I come up with a grand plan for success, health, wealth, whatever and I set it in motion, but in the middle of the project something else distracts me, or another idea or project comes into my mind and the next thing I know, I’m sidetracked. I’ve lost focus. Try and juggle too many items, and they will come crashing down. Focus on keeping one thing up in the air and your chances of success are much higher. Makes sense, no?

So the takeaways from today’s story are,

1) Focus relentlessly on what you need to do

2) Ignore the background stuff

3) Don’t get distracted. That’s what losers do.

The great joy is that, we as human beings do, in fact, have the capacity to keep several projects going at once. I don’t believe it is necessary to ignore one’s physical health, for example, to achieve a financial or educational goal. And yet again, it comes down to how good you’ve built your team around you to help you achieve all the things you want. Oh, and be prepare to adapt. Don’t continue to offer what no-one needs, or more importantly, what everyone already has and doesn’t need any more of. Think about what you offer as a person. Because if no-one wants it, you’re out of business. RIP Jessops.

Keep your friends close. That’s all

Do your friends help you? Do you enrich each other? If not, are they even friends?

My best friend is a GP doctor and I’m sure he won’t mind him mentioning him here. We go back to medical school days and since moving back to Wales, we’ve spent a lot of time supporting each other through our various endeavours.

Interestingly although we have some commonalities in our backgrounds, we had quite different outlooks, and even today, we have a lot of differences in how we see and do things, due to our circumstances, one of which is that I’ve been married for 8 yrs and he remains blissfully single.

I mention this because through our life journey, we (as in the collective we) have a habit of gravitating towards those who are similar to us in terms of background, social and financial status, occupational similarities, even to such issues of favourite cars, holiday destinations, hobbies and so on. I say gravitate towards, because we don’t start off life like this.

Have you ever noticed how children, by and large, don’t really care what their friends look like? My daughter’s school has an amazing ethnic diversity and cultural variety, and at the age of 5 has made loads of friends who are nothing like her in so many respects. Now, have you also noticed that if your child brings a friend home or you see your child with their school friends, you find yourself thinking, ‘how did my son find himself hanging about with this character?’, which makes some sense if your son is a teenager and starting to build relationships outside of the family sphere of influence, not to mention all the fun personal development stuff that teenagers go through. Guidance is not optional here, it’s an obligation. But do you find yourself doing this to your primary school –age children too? Do you find yourself instinctively making a judgement on your 4 or 5 yr old’s classmates when you see them at the school gates based upon how they dress, how their parents dress, what language they speak? Do you tend to guide them towards the ‘right’ kind of children? Think about it.

Children, as a rule, see the world as wide and open, with many opportunities and paths open to them. It’s like they see a football field or a beach, everything is open and free. Adults prefer the beautifully manicured lawn, cultivated garden or play area. It’s been designed, it represents order. We like order, it represents that rules have been followed, it is congruent with our identity of logical thinking to solve a problem eg this was a messy garden before, now it has well tended flower beds. Now see what happens when you let primary school children loose on that garden! Is it that children don’t appreciate order and rules? Maybe. Is it that they don’t appreciate beauty? Nonsense. It is well established that even young children have an eye for colours, designs, things that attract attention due to simplicity and form. How else do you explain the success of iPads with children all over the world?

Notice though that adults like the garden with distinct and signposted paths, areas to follow and more importantly, areas to avoid. We see the parts of the garden that are closed, more than those that are open. (Keep off the grass, anyone? What’s the point of grass if only seen from a distance?) And try as we might, we automatically convey those feelings of a ‘closed system’ to our children, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously. Children are surprisingly adept at picking up these signals, especially as our body language may entirely contradict our words eg ‘Of course little Johnny can come and play on Saturday’ – body language says ‘that Johnny kid wants to come over? I’d sooner perform my own tonsillectomy. Using a kitchen knife.’

What’s my point in all this? My friend is a very successful GP, but he doesn’t spend a lot of time socially with doctors, apart from me, because he has such a wide range of interests. And when we’re meeting up, we hardly ever talk ‘shop’ because we simply do not define our relationship that way. In fact, if we listed our various interests, activities and backgrounds one would note as many differences as similarities.

I put it down to this – we are friends because we create value in our interactions with each other, and we learn something from each other every time.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m big on ‘value’, which means I want people I meet to know that I want them to feel better in some way for having met me, whether because I’ve given them some advice, I’ve offered some help or insight, or just because I’ve been there to listen. I’ve helped somehow. My friend and I helped each other through tough times in each other’s lives just because we value each other’s well being, and that’s what friends do at the end of the day. They offer without expecting reward. I’m blessed that I have friends like that, and I believe that it’s because I’ve been willing to offer value, not because they have helped me, or that I expect them to help me, but I know that if I do need help I’ve got people to call on who won’t hesitate to step up. I’ll get into this in more detail another time.

My point is this – my friends are quite unlike me in a lot of ways. Why then should we judge how our children should choose their friendships? In many ways, they have the instinct of offering their help (how many teenagers spend hours on the phone consoling a friend in need? Their mobile bill will tell you the answer!) and, given the example that creating friendship and support means not cutting off options based upon simple and unreliable factors like what kind of clothes they wear or what their parents do. Does your friend network offer each other value? Do you spend time with people who actively improve your life? Consider your friendships and relationships, they are what will count when everything else has gone.

So takeaways for the day…

1)      Be more ‘open’ to possibilities

2)      Value your friendships and relationships above all else. Keep in contact!

3)       Look to offer help with no expectation of a ‘return’

[Photo of friends together]

Enjoy the rest of the day , and thanks for stopping by.