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August 2008


Probably the most well established fact about why businesses fail is that the number one reason is: they don’t communicate! Invariably, they fail to communicate with customers as well as staff. The next result of this failure is lack of interest and lack of belief in the organization.

Communication itself is a broad term covering at least 4 distinctive modes: there is ‘systems communication’, ‘written communication’, ‘presentational skills communication’, and ‘personal communication’ (that is, one to one). Serious shortcomings in any one of these modes can induce business failure, and it would be invidious to suggest that one mode were more important than any other. That said, at root, I believe personal communication is primary.

For one thing personal communication is the essential mechanism that builds trust – all the systems, memos, and presentations in the world cannot reassure in the way that one person speaking to another can.

What is happening then in personal communication that is so significant? Well, it has two major components: speaking and listening. As managers we spend most of our time speaking and wanting to speak; however, we should reverse this: spend 80% of our time listening, and only 20% speaking. But this is a tall order. And why should we do it?

The truth is that listening not only builds profoundest levels of trust, listening also builds motivation. Enlightened management knows this, which is why it invests in managers attending listening skills courses. For some excellent information on developing listening skills, check out these sites:

But there is a problem when we treat listening purely as a skill. Sure, there are techniques that improve our listening capabilities – lean forward, pause before replying, ask open questions, paraphrase, use rapid repeat technique and so on. And that’s it: technique. People distrust other people who use techniques on them; in fact, nobody wants to be the victim of a technique, no matter how well meaning it is. For the technique not to appear to be a technique it has to be so deeply embedded that it becomes ‘natural’. Most managers – even highly able ones – haven’t the time or the patience to reach that level of embeddedness: they have projects to manage for goodness sake!

And yet the problem is not going to go away. People do not need, generally, a good talking to; they need a good listening to. Why is this, and how can it be done if we do not go down the technique route?

I think the key issue is to re-frame the level of importance we attach to listening per se. There is a lot of lip service paid to its importance, but that does not necessarily translate into action. And it doesn’t translate into action because the thoughts do not convert into desire – into a hunger to listen.

Let me share with you some of my thoughts about why listening is at the very core of what it means to be human. I ask myself this question: in what states of being are we most intensely ourselves? And I think the answer is twofold: we are looking to become most ourselves when we either meditate or pray. But what are we actually doing in those two (altered) states?

When we meditate we are actually tuning in – listening – to the universe, the Spirit, the God, the One, and we are trying to discern what its Will is for us. Even if we don’t believe in the One, and we meditate, we are still trying to listen to our own souls whispering their messages to us – messages which are normally drowned out by all the monkey-chatter of our rational minds.

And when we pray – as nearly everybody has done at some point in their lives to greater or lesser effect – what are we doing? We are asking the One to answer or respond to our prayer. At the same time there is always the belief that the One is in fact listening. When prayers are not apparently answered, many still derive benefit from their knowledge, their belief, that the One is listening. Take away the ear of the Universe and mankind’s life can seem very pointless indeed.

So what I am saying here is that listening is the activity that is virtually synonymous with loving – why would the One listen if it were not in love? Why would we listen to ourselves (if we do not believe in God) if it were not to love ourselves in the very act of seeking our deeper responses? This is why meditation is such a powerful antidote to low self-esteem.

Next time, then, we encounter some difficulty at work or home – and difficulty means difficult person! – let us ask ourselves: am I really listening to that person? If I am not, then the chances of effecting any real change are marginal. Listening has the motivational power that most techniques do not.



Is it me or is it just a faddish whim i am experiencing when i say i wish to have some quiet motivation? Apparently we need motivation to get us out of our comfort zone - that area of un-achievement familiar to most people i guess at some period of their life. In that sense i think motivation is good. But when i talk about quiet motivation i am rebelling against that Animal Farm bleat of 'comfort zone baaaad, risk-taking gooood'.

i recently saw a news item on National TV news about a couple who's big idea for marriage was getting hitched on a plane: Yes, that's right, getting hitched ON a plane. To be more precise, 3 small bi-planes: they trained apparently so that the minister - who was selected on the basis of having no fear of heights - and they all stood on their respective planes a thousand feet up in the air where using a comms system they exchanged vows. Again, to be more specific, their standing involved being strapped on the outside of the plane. They were keen to do something different. It certainly was that - as i'm sure their guests observed as they roared overhead.

They were certainly motivated to do something different and highly risky. But performance includes three key ingredients: motivation - they had that; skill - yes, that too, as they didn't fall off; and direction - ah yes, here surely there is something wrong.

What could conceivably be the point of such a performance except to attract publicity - for what? If it's balanced with the risk to life and limb - and we have recently had a young married couple returning in coffins simply from being in their hotel - can it be justified? And this not to mention its pure inconvenience to the guests. I went to a great wedding service on last Friday at Highcliffe Castle: it was good to be able to really see the service!

Of course, the example i am talking about is very extreme, but it does seem as if that is the way of it: people feeling under tremendous pressure to be different, not to conform, and to take enormous risks over pretty meaningless activities.

The world of motivation is itself full of this sort of stuff. Think, the hubris of the fire walk; the trouble is, so many thousands have now 'done' that, where now? what next? Visit the poles, top the mountains, book outerspace, or at the very least depart to inner Borneo.

My challenge to all these restless types who seem to want to go beyond their comfort zone - do what Voltaire said: cultivate your own back garden. Now that would really be stretching it a bit, wouldn't it? If that seems too staid, then i suggest a week away on a silent, religious retreat - vegetarian fare only. Time for meditation and quiet motivation to re-charge those exhausted adrenals.



I was looking up Motivational Memos as a Google search hoping to find my own blog - we sometimes need validation, don't we? I'm here, right? The blog exists too? Lo, there it was but in a synchronistic moment i discovered another blog for motivational memos: and what a delight that was!

Peter Sinclair has a wealth of great stuff and in particular i enjoyed his piece on the importance of positivity as a confirmed state of mind along with the need for role models and mentors - topics dear to my heart. My view is that role models are a greatly under-discussed aspect of our life and society. For want of good role models we go to hell in a handcart. Why is this?

I think we need to unpick the dynamics of the human self-concept or self-identity as it is sometimes called. There are three primary ingredients: our self-esteem, our self-image and our ideal self. Our self-esteem relates to how we feel about ourselves, which itself largely reflects the way we have interpreted the experiences we have had. On the other hand, our self image is a picture of how we see and think about ourself now. 

One then, the esteem, has a past dimension to it, whereas the image is in the present; but the ideal self is how we want to be in the future. What is really interesting about this aspect of our psychology is how, when we are babies and children, it is natural to have ideal selves: in the functional family unit, the boy wants to be like dad, and the girl like mum. One might almost define the dysfunctional 'family' unit as being that place where the young person does not identify with adult carers. We clearly see the consequences of this in the kind of society and behaviours we see today.

However, the need for the ideal self does not evaporate with the end of childhood. In fact we see its evolution as teenagers  decide some idol or star or peer group leader is the 'coolest' model to imitate or emulate.

What is sad, though, is meeting people still only in their early twenties who have lost all concept of having an 'ideal' at all, except perhaps in the sense of worshipping 'stars' purely in the sense that they are stars. In fact the need to have a great role models - be it Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa - never ends for the healthy personality. And what history shows us is that the very greatest role models - ideal selves - always come from one category of human experience: beyond the great generals,the stirring politicians, the category that endures for thousands of years as 'ideal' is always the religious type - the Bhuddas, the Prophets, the Christ.

There are probably many reasons for this but three certainly are: the need for growth, the need for a form on which the mind can base itself as a secure foundation, the need for a compelling vision. All these are part of the role model's function - and the ideal self which drives us forward to be better than we are.

My question therefore to everyone is: who is your ideal self?