Coping with Challenges and Change – How Do You Do It?

Taking Stock of Transferable Skills

Working as a psychology lecturer I routinely encounter students who don’t make connections between different aspects of psychology. Working as a (life) coach I often encounter clients who don’t take stock of their transferable skills. Now, the first time I attended a meeting of the Professional Speakers Association I was asked ‘Have you done any public speaking?’ My knee-jerk reaction was to say ‘no’. At the time I had over ten years experience in teaching, I’d fronted media campaigns, appeared on radio and television and yet I still said ‘no’. In my mind I obviously didn’t class any of this experience as public speaking.  Sometimes we keep aspects of our life and experience in discrete ‘little boxes’. This may have an impact on how we view change and new challenges and our ability to cope.

How to You Deal With Change?

Consider the following questions relating to how you made previous changes in your life. Get a sheet of paper and write down your answers.

  • Knowing yourself as you do, what pattern, routine or process do you usually go through to make changes in your life?
  • What are the steps you go through in your decision making process?
  • With whom would you normally confide when considering making changes?
  • What things would you discuss with them when considering making a change?
  • What considering change, what attitudes did you have that helped make it happen?
  • Of all the strategies you have used in the past to make changes, what do you think might be the most helpful in handling the situation now?

Take time to answer them fully. It doesn’t have to be a major change, in fact, think of all types of change from switching brands of fruit juice to changing jobs.

How to Cope with Challenges?

Now spend some time considering previous challenges and successes and answer the following questions. Again take time to consider the questions fully and write down your answers.

  • Despite the challenges you encountered, how did you manage to persevere? How did you cope?
  • Where do you get the determination when others might have given up?
  • Knowing yourself as you do, what attitude to previous challenges did you have that helped make it through?
  • Considering a previous success, despite the challenge and the circumstances, how did you manage to succeed?
  • What is it that enables you to get through challenges and succeed?
  • What personal qualities, strengths and skills enable you to get challenging times?
  • What would a supportive close friend, partner or family member say are your qualities that help you get through challenges?

Solution-Focused Thinking for Challenges and Change

Making an inventory is a key strategy in solution-focused thinking and one of the things I work with clients to do in (life) coaching. When we become stressed we go into survival mode – fight or flight – which limits our perception of the options available to us. Considering our options and writing down the answers means it is more likely we will recall how we coped with past challenges and how we dealt with change. It is a key confidence building strategy.

Whenever you are faced with challenge and change, it helps if you begin by taking a few long slow deep breaths to lower your stress levels. You are then better placed to take a broader view and consider your transferable skills, strengths, skills, coping mechanisms and past successes.

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Job Interview Essentials

Like all skills, interviewing well takes practice. It also helps to recognise that interviewing is a two way process. Often people assume that it’s all about being interviewed by a potential employer to assess suitability as an employee. However, it’s also your opportunity for you to assess whether a particular employer is a match for your skills, strengths, values and personality. So be prepared to ask questions to check out the employer and the organization. This requires self-reflection and a bit of research on your target employer. It starts by reading the job specification, the person specification and finding our more about the organization.

Possibly in an effort to make the process a little less boring for themselves, interviewers may dream up creative questions that sound more difficult than they really are. Some interviewers may not be experienced or comfortable interviewing which may be reflected in questions that add very little to the process. So, it’s worth being clear about what the interview process aims to achieve. Top Executive Recruiters agree that interviews need to assess three key topics: Strengths, Motivation and Fit. These translate into three main questions:

  1. Can you do the job?
  2. Will you love the job?
  3. Can we work with you?
Interview questions are most often these three themes ‘dressed up’ to varying degrees. Getting to the yes/no answers requires sifting the evidence. As an interviewee you need to provide evidence of skills, qualifications and experience to demonstrate that you can do the job. This is not about repeating what’s on your CV, it’s about giving examples that demonstrate how you have applied your skills and strengths. It’s also helpful to identify transferable skills. I use a number of tools and techniques to help clients to identify their strengths. It’s the basis from which all else proceeds. It’s also worth considering when things didn’t go smoothly. How did you handle ‘failure’? How did you move forward?
‘Loving the job’ is all about motivation. What will continue to make the job worthwhile when the going gets tough, apart from the money? The job may fit in with your values, that is ‘what you stand for’ or may tie in with your long term goals. It’s all about knowing what makes you tick, what gets you out of bed in the morning and what keeps you going when the going gets tough. I’ve coached students in applications to MBAs to the highest ranking Universities in the world. Most of the questions are about goals and values. Knowing yours is absolutely essential for job interviews. Again, I use values elicitation exercises with clients and also to see if existing goals are supporting these values.
As well as providing insights into our motivation, knowledge of our values can also help us determine how well we may fit in with organizations and teams. You may have all the skills for the job but if you have a strong social conscience and the organization is a ‘do what ever it takes’ enterprise, then there may be a values clash.
As well as self-evaluation you also have to do your home-work on the organization. Don’t be like the woefully unprepared candidates on the TV show Dragon’s Den who pitch an idea for stationary not knowing that one of the dragon’s sells paper-clips or pitching a new dessert not knowing that one of the dragon’s once owned an ice-cream van. It shows a lack of professionalism and respect. There is no excuse for not doing an internet search and finding out about your potential employer. It’s the only way you are going to properly assess that there will be a match.
Self-knowledge and a little background research can transform the interviewing process so that it’s no longer a mystical ordeal but instead a personal and professional development opportunity.
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Communication Tips in Relationships

All too often it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing communication skills as a bunch and tips, tools and techniques for getting our own personal message across. Well in part that is true, but it’s only half of the story.

Essentially communication is about an exchange of perspectives; a coming together of differing personal views of the world. It’s not just about talking; it’s about listening too. Listening may be thought of as a passive process, just nodding, smiling and hmm-ing until it’s our turn to ‘communicate’. However, the way you listen will determine whether anyone will want to talk to you. And when we speak it’s often it’s not what we say but how we say it that determines whether or not other people will hear us. The way we present our messages will increase the chances that someone will actually listen to us.
We often hear a lot about how it’s good to talk in relationships but when it’s time to talk about problems in relationships, a common error is to lump all your petty niggles and resentments into one big formless heap and then dump that on to a friend, partner or loved one. The reason for this is simple. All too often we are encouraged to engage in battlefield communications – the battle of the sexes – where the winner takes it all! There is an art to communication and the first thing to decide is what your message is; what do you want to get across. Different types of communication like books, plays, films and so on all do through an editing process in the hope that they will be received in the best possible light. If both partners ‘edit’ their message and stick to the most important issues, then it will also, most likely, be easier to listen to.

My recommendations for clear communication tend to work well when used together, and of course you need to be flexible and adapt them to your own particular needs and the needs of the other person, and the relationship. A number of these suggestions are taken from my book Sex, Lies & Stereotypes.

Here they are:

Think partnership
If your relationship is a partnership then you should aim for a win-win situation. It should not be a zero-sum game, so that one partner benefits at the expense of the other. It is important that you really make an effort to see things for each other’s perspective. Be creative in solutions. Think ‘outside of the box’. If you both win, the relationship wins doubly so.

Pick the right moment
Don’t be tempted to dive in, no matter the time or place. Agree on a time and place to discuss important matters when you are not likely to be disturbed or distracted. Again, think partnership. It needs to be a time and place that works for both of you, relatively free from stress and private. You both need to feel safe to disclose your intimate thoughts. So, don’t pick the moment your partner wants to watch his/her favourite programme, or when you are on the dance floor at a nightclub, or in the frozen food aisle of the supermarket.

Own your statements
When dealing with negative or difficult issues you need to own your statements. There is a big difference between ‘I feel as if’ and ‘you make me feel’. If you introduce a sense of blame, the whole discussion becomes a game of ‘emotional poker’ with I’ll raise your ‘hurt feelings’, and see you a ‘really make me sick’. It’s not meant to be a competition.

The behaviour is not the person
It is far easier for a person to change their behaviour than to change their whole self. Once you’ve said ‘You really make me sick’, there isn’t really anything else left to say, is there? If on the receiving end, you might want to say ‘In what specific ways do I make you sick?’ Prompt for examples, ask for evidence. However, if the person says ‘I don’t like it when you. . .’ or say how you feel when a particular behaviour occurs. This way you cut to the chase and immediately start talking about the important stuff. Of course, it doesn’t have to be something negative. Instead of saying ‘You are useless at foreplay’, you could say what you do like, for instance ‘I like it when you do x, y and z. (Hmmm! Can’t beat a bit of x,y & z). Say how good you feel. Psychologically, people respond much better to positive reinforcement, such as praise, than they do to negative feedback such as ‘put downs’. Even ‘I really appreciate it when you get up to put the cat out’!

Observations not judgements
Don’t make sweeping generalised judgements about what things do or don’t mean. Don’t start sentences with ‘If you loved me’ or ‘If you cared’. These are not facts. They are your perceptions. Consider this statement ‘You don’t care whether or not I get any sexual satisfaction, you just think about yourself’. All wrapped up in one statement is ‘caring’, ‘selfishness’, and ‘sexual satisfaction’. You may end up arguing about caring and selfishness when you really should be discussing sexual satisfaction. Make factual observations not value judgements.

Give specific feedback based on observations
Words like ‘always’, ‘sometimes’, ‘often’ and ‘never’ are all rather vague and leave things wide open for disagreement. Again, it is all about different perspectives. You need to put things into context and be more specific. It then becomes easier to get side tracked by arguing over the terms and frequencies rather than discussing the real issues.

Share ideas or offer alternatives, rather than make demands or give advice.
Most people respond better if they have a sense on input or investment in a course of action. Nobody likes being told what to do. It’s all about perspectives again. Discussing options should be the first step in any ‘negotiation’. This communicates the idea that you value the other person’s point of view. Psychologically, there will be a greater sense of ownership of an idea for both people if they have both contributed to it.

Too much, Too Soon. Don’t go for feedback overload
When material has a high emotional content, it often takes us a little longer to process. So if a partner discloses something, you may say the first thing that comes into your head, or use it as a signal to open up the floodgates, releasing a torrent of emotion. However sometimes it requires a little time to ‘digest’ what you’ve just heard. Sometimes it is important to go away and process the thoughts before ‘thinking out loud’. You are less likely to say something that you hadn’t fully thought through (and may regret later). It is okay to take ‘time out’ and agree to come back to it. If you get into the habit of good communications, then there isn’t that imperative to have to deal with everything in one go.

In summary
Overall, people who discuss things (even argue) in a similar style are more likely to resolve their differences. Using some or all of these tips helps to make sure that the right message gets through. It is really about learning how to focus the message and not getting side-tracked by our personal perceptions. Essentially, it is about making your ‘signal’ easier for the other person to process by getting rid of ‘the interference’.
What I’ve also found from reviewing the research is that people in relationships considered more intimate usually have a number of things in common:

  • – they tend to share equally private thoughts and feelings, especially private ones, and are more likely to say ‘I love you’, or pay their partners a compliment.
  • – they less likely to ‘point score’ and more likely to seek win-win solutions to any problems.
  • – they also tend to take a direct approach and talk rather than expect their partners to be mind-readers, and when in conflict they tend to look for a swift solution rather than ‘prolong the agony’ (i.e. sulking).

In short, relationships that are more intimate tend to be partnerships-based. Overall these pointers represent an ideal way to communicate, and as we know, sometimes we are not always presented with ideal conditions. So don’t worry if you don’t put all of these things into action every time. Do what you can at the time with the intention of maintaining a partnership perspective.

Positive Worrying & Future Desired Outcomes

We usually assume that no good can come of worrying but it doesn’t stop us doing it. We run our mental ‘home movies’ of future events as if they had already turned out badly. We re-run old conversations and worry that we should have said this or wished we hadn’t said that. So can any good come of worrying?

Worrying is usually thought of as a bad thing because it focuses on the negative. However, it is possible to use the same set of skills with a positive focus. You may be surprised to hear me speaking of worrying as a skill, but it’s something we practise and we get good at it. That’s a skill.

Worrying actually involves two key psychological skills:

  • the ability to form vivid mental images,
  • the ability to create  inner  dialogue (self-talk).

Both are usually stuck on the ‘deflate’ setting. Once we switch the emphasis to ‘inspire’ we can create and rehearse positive mental pictures and words instead.  This is what I call, positive worrying. Using these skills helps us to support our goals, taking exams, on a date, taking a driving test, giving a presentation, and so on. If you’ve got a desired end result in mind, the you can use positive worrying to build yourself up instead of keeping yourself down.

Positive worrying involves creating a mental image of the end result, or the finished line, not how you got there. Focusing on the end result creates a sense that you’ve already succeeded and helps to build motivation. It’s a technique that top athletes use to support elite performance.

Here’s a short video explaining more about ‘positive worrying’ followed by links for an inner dialogue (self-talk) exercise and a basic relaxation technique. Use them all to help create a positive change in the way your view yourself, your skills and your goals.

Links:

Self-Talk: Water Wings & Concrete Galoshes.

Two-Minute Stress Buster.

Book: Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It.