Chimp or Human?

A client recently recommended Steve Peters’ book ‘The Chimp Paradox’ to me, and I’ve been reading it for the last week or so.  Dr Peters is well known as a psychologist in the sports world, working with Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton, Liverpool FC and many others.

The key idea of the book is to think of our minds as having three essential components – the chimp (a personalisation of the limbic brain) the human (the frontal area of the brain) and the computer (the parietal).  The chimp acts and reacts emotionally, driven by the need to survive and replicate its genes; the human considers and acts logically, looking to achieve fulfilment; the computer simply stores material (both facts and patterns and automatic reactions) which the chimp and human use.

His key distinction is this: if you experience an emotion which you don’t welcome, it is the chimp playing up.  So when we are angry, upset, anxious and so on, we recognise that we are dealing with a primitive drive within us.  But, he says, you yourself are the human – you are the rational being you would like to be.  You are not the chimp.  You are  a human, and it is your job to control the chimp within, much as a dog owner has to control a dog.

Of course, this is just a model – I expect the line between chimp and human is pretty grey in reality. But it is a hugely useful model.  It enables us to create a dialogue within ourselves, and it empowers us to deal with the feelings and behaviours we don’t like.

So – do you want to be a chimp, or a human?

A Change in the Weather

Almost overnight, everyone else has turned brown.  Suddenly there are shorts and tee-shirts, sunglasses.  Everyone moves more slowly.  It feels like a holiday.  Outside my window in the centre of Bristol, you can hear desultory chat, the chink of glasses, music turned up, the slap of sandals walking by.

A change in the system (in this case, the weather system) produces a change in behavior, a change in priorities, a change in feelings.

I know there are some hardy souls who just start wearing shorts at the beginning of April even if it’s still snowing (no, there ARE – I saw one guy earlier in the year), but they are the exception.  It is hard to do one thing when the system is telling you to do something else.

I’m coming to realize that as a coach, I’m never coaching an individual – I’m always coaching the system.  It’s extremely hard for a naturally receptive person to become assertive at the best of times.  But when his boss is aggressive and full of initiatives of his own, it’s almost impossible.  Somehow the boss has to change to make the space for the other guy to assert himself.  It’s all very well for a CEO to have a compelling  vision and pull together a team to implement it – but if the Board gets too anxious too quickly about the bottom line, she may not be given the chance to get there.

You have to change the system.  And if you want one of your direct reports to develop, you have to get out of the way.  And to do that you may have to change even more than the person who’d being coached.  Or you may have to see how the system can be changed at an even more fundamental level.

Sometimes we need to change the weather.

Sell Your Self

We are all in selling now.

‘Always Be Closing’ – as Dan Pink explains in his thought-provoking book ‘To Sell is Human’, a generation of salesmen and women were taught this mantra.  Always Be Closing – in other words, everything you do and say in a conversation with a customer or client should be pushing towards the Close, the clinching of the sale, when the money changes hands.  That is the defining moment of the sales person’s life and work.  After that, the salesman can walk away in the knowledge of a job well done, with an assurance that his commission has been earned.

No wonder selling has had such a bad press.  As Pink points out, such a model of selling could only succeed in an age when the saleswoman could occupy the place of expert – only she had the product, or information about it, and selling was therefore a challenge to show the customer the necessity of parting with her cash to purchase this product (and this one only).  But we’re in a new age, when we can google the details of most products and services, and we can all be experts.  What has become of the salesman?

Pink shows that the salesperson hasn’t gone away.  In fact we are all salesmen and women.  ‘Selling’ in the traditional sense of persuading a person to part with hard-earned income for a product you or your company has created, has now been replaced with the much bigger and all-pervasive need to ‘move’ other people to make decisions.

The teacher has to move the recalcitrant student to complete his Film Studies coursework; the doctor must move the patient to change her lifestyle; the minister must move that nice man on the PCC to become  churchwarden; and yes, the marketing manager or the salesman must move his clients to give his company’s product a try.  We are all in selling in this sense – even in families, when we long to move our children to tidy their rooms or empty the dishwasher.

So in place of Always Be Closing, Pink offers us a new ABC – attunement, buoyancy and clarity.  Attunement: we make a relationship with the person, understand what will move her; we are so attuned, in fact, that we won’t sell her what is actually wrong for her.  Buoyancy: we develop resilience, so that when we fail to move someone we are not destroyed by the experience; we learn to value ourselves and whatever it is we are offering sufficiently, independent of our success in moving others.  Clarity: we ask questions to discover what it is that the person we are talking to actually does want, and how we (or someone else) may be able to meet his needs.

What are you selling?  A vision of the future of your firm, to your staff?  The need to keep on top of school work, to a student?  A product or service you provide?  A new way of looking at your marriage, to your partner?  A great new interest you have discovered, to a friend?  The value of reading a particular book, to a client, or reader?

We are all in selling, and it’s not about the Close, it’s about the relationship and the process.  How can you focus on those this week?

First Manage Yourself

I recently had a really interesting meeting with a hugely talented woman who works for herself.  She does the most wonderful work.  But she’s struggling to stay motivated and to hit targets, to manage her clients and develop her business.

In our discussion, I asked if she needed a business mentor or a coach.  She was clear: this is about managing herself.  She knows the business inside out; she knows better than almost anyone how to do what she does.  But she needs to manage herself better.

Often we assume that management is about how we get what we need out of other people.  It’s not.  It’s always about how we manage ourselves.  And no-one else can do that.

In the end, the only resource I have to offer the world, or my family, or my business, or my friends is myself.  Am I learning to develop and use that resource?

The Glory of the Paralympics

Paralympians have found a way of working with their limitations which has released them into being exceptional.  Their humanity, their vulnerability, is right there on the surface: in a ‘missing’ arm, or some neural connections that don’t function perfectly, or a severed spinal column.

It’s true there are things they can’t do.  They know that.  If you run on blades, you can’t also wiggle your toes in the sand, because you have no toes.

But what inspires me about the Paralympics is that the athletes haven’t made the illogical reverse assumption that because they can’t wiggle toes in the sand, they can’t run fast.  Oscar Pistorius and the rest of them run (or roll) a whole lot faster than I ever have done, and they do it by focussing on what they can do, not on what they can’t do.

There may be things you really can’t do.  Your humanity and vulnerability may be hidden: a phobia about flying, a deep anxiety about getting close to someone, a difficulty reading, a fear of losing control or being responsible for others.

But Paralympians show us that the glory of being human is that we’re so much less limited than we think we are.

Anyone there?

The first blog post… Perhaps this is a bit like going to a party that I’m a bit nervous about?  I put it off as long as I can and then turn up as people are leaving, and see all sorts of interesting faces going in the opposite direction.  Nothing I do can make it seem that they are the ones who got the time wrong…

So I enter the blogosphere – quite possibly just as everyone else is leaving.  Hello!  Anyone there?

This is weird.  In theory there are several billion people out here, but my voice echoes as if in one of those otherworldly (yet clearly cardboard) Doctor Who sets from the sixties and I worry that the only person who’s going to jump out is an alien, whose response I won’t be able to understand anyway (unless it shoots me).

A few facts: I’m Jerry Gilpin, and I run a coaching and development business called ‘perception’, in the wonderful city of Bristol UK.  Before this I worked as a chaplain in an Oxford University College (St Hugh’s), and before that I was a fulltime Christian minister in the Church of England.  More bits of history will no doubt come out as we go along.

What’s the blog for?  Well my friendly web-designer Christophe said it would be good for my SEO ratings; but more than that, I’ve had a sneaking feeling for ages that it might be a good way to discipline myself to reflect on the work I’m doing, and that some other people out there on the scary alien uninhabited planet might be interested – maybe people I’ve worked with… maybe my friends… maybe you, unknown person!  So I’m giving it a go, along with Twitter (when I get round t’wit – sorry – and a tutorial from my son).

So how was it for you?  Was this a good blog post?  How will I find out?  Will I measure my success on the numbers of responses I get, or simply on the number of posts I make?  Because I know that I tend to judge my success on the basis of what others say and do, even though I can’t control that.  We all do it.  Maybe I should stick to what I can control personally – a minimum of one post every two weeks should be achievable, and I might do more.  And if it echoes around an empty corner of cyberspace… well, it won’t be annoying the aliens.