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.