[Article] Dealing with criticism

I’m often asked about how to give feedback. It’s much less often that anyone raises the issue of how to deal with receiving feedback, especially when it feels like criticism.

Last week someone posted a comment on the Brilliant Minds blog, in which they told me that they had been reading/watching my blog posts for some time and that I seemed to be saying the same things over and over and didn’t have any new ideas.  (They also said they were going to unsubscribe, so I don’t expect that person to be reading this!)

Do I care? Yes, of course I do! I like to think that I’m giving my readers high value material every week. It’s true, there are some common themes, but that’s just to remind you – and me – of the success factors that never go away.  The things we have to keep doing all the time.

So yes, that comment stung a bit.

Have you ever noticed that you have a better memory for the critical comments than for the supportive ones? Most of the trainers I talk to about this agree that one negative comment in a pile of glowing feedback can easily ruin a weekend! That single dissenting voice in a crowd of fans is the one that claims – and keeps – my attention more often than not.

So why is it?

Criticism tells us we didn’t get something exactly right. It tells us we have room for improvement. Maybe something to learn. The emotional sting that goes with it is a marker that keeps the memory of the criticism alive until we have answered the critic and restored our sense of our own abilities.

But have you ever felt robbed of your confidence or energy by a critical remark? What do you do in the face of feedback that festers in your mind and fosters a feeling of failure?

One of my friends showed me a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which he used to bolster his ability to ignore the critics and refocus on his own purpose:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt

Great quote, right?

When I get criticism I do three things:

Firstly, I consider whether or not I think the criticism is justified: entirely, partly, slightly or not at all. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but respecting someone else’s ‘map of the world’ doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. I find it’s best to do this once the first sting of the criticism has faded. In NLP terms, it’s easiest to do this in a meta-position, a dissociated state.

Secondly, I decide what action to take. It may be that I want to answer the critic in person; I may decide I want to improve my performance in some way; occasionally I might decide to stop doing something. This decision is important because that’s how I move on. Once I’ve decided how to respond, I’ve made use of the feedback and I can forget about it.

Thirdly, I take action and monitor the results. Sometimes, one person makes a criticism that speaks for many other people as well. In those cases, the actions taken might create a wave of positive feedback. Sometimes the critic is a lone voice and no-one else notices the changes I’ve made. One way or another, the results of my actions form useful feedback.

In reflecting on how I handle criticism, I’m reminded how important it is that managers in particular know how to give feedback in a constructive manner. Badly-prepared feedback can end up as brutal criticism and can de-motivate a person for hours, days or weeks, depending on their ability to deal with criticism.

So, next time you feel like criticising someone, stop and think. What do you actually want to achieve? What’s the best way of going about it?

And if all else is irrelevant, remember what your mother used to say (well, mine did anyway), “If you haven’t got anything nice to say, keep your mouth shut”.

[Article] Choice and control – a window on my world

The time had come. I had to make a plan, make some decisions, get the ball rolling. I had already put it off several times and I knew I was only going to create a bigger headache if I left it any longer.

The question – how to deliver NLP Practitioner training in 2020?

Let’s step back a few months. In February I ran Module One of a programme that was intended to carry on to June. In March, I put it on hold. We were in lockdown, it just wasn’t possible. And it was a small group so we needed everyone involved if it was to go on any further. Could we have carried on using virtual technology? With hindsight, maybe we could, but at the time it didn’t seem practical and I was assuming we could resume our ‘in person’ sessions fairly soon.

Four months on, it still wasn’t clear to me whether running workshops at my usual venue was going to be possible. And if it wasn’t, was I willing to adapt NLP Practitioner to be delivered on-line? I had a lot of questions…

Firstly, would the hotel be open? Would it be COVID-secure? Would they be open to conferences and events or just leisure guests?

It turned out that they are open, they are accepting conference bookings and they have very good COVID protocols in place.

Secondly, assuming the hotel could support us would people come to a course?

I rang around a selection of HR Directors and canvassed opinions. They were diverse – predictably. Some said yes, if the venue was safe to open then they’d allow their staff to come to the course. Others said it was academic because their business had suffered financially and they had to ‘tighten their belts’. Others said they were staying in lockdown for now. One had an embargo on all travel.

Thirdly, how easy would it be to deliver NLP using virtual means only?

I’m a Master Trainer of NLP. I can be flexible. Virtual delivery might not be ideal, but it’s way better than nothing. I have a good e-learning platform and some capability with zoom. I’m okay about talking to a camera. How hard can it be?

But still the questions persisted. What I really wanted to do was to deliver the training ‘in person’ at the hotel, the way I usually do. It just didn’t seem that it would work. What if there was a second wave and a second lockdown?What was the fall-back position? Was I just being a Luddite and refusing to accept the inevitable?

I knew I had to commit to a plan so I sat down with a large sheet of paper, my ubiquitous coloured pens and a large mug of tea and started to empty my head. Within 20 minutes the decision was made.

I realised that I had many options about to deliver NLP Practitioner training in 2020. There was only one option that was entirely under my control and gave me the chance to do a really great job for my clients. The virtual option. It’s the only way I can make a plan and know that nothing will get in the way of it.

So here’s the plan:

I’ve fixed the days in the same pattern as the original programme. Module One is three days, Modules Two-Four are five days each and Module Five is the two days for assessment and certification.

However, the days will not be eight-hour marathons on zoom. It will be a ‘blended learning’ approach with some material available for self-study and some done ‘live’ on zoom. I’m still working on the exact programme and it’s going to take a while to get everything in place, but I’m enjoying the challenge. It’s been a while since I‘ve designed a major programme like this and it’s a great opportunity to re-visit the content and re-evaluate the exercises and examples.

If you’d like to join in, you can get the details here: https://www.brilliantminds.co.uk/executive-nlp-practitioner/


You don’t have to commit to the whole programme, you can sign up for Module One and then see how you feel about carrying on to Module Two.

You’ll find the details for Module One here: https://www.brilliantminds.co.uk/module-one/

[Article] When the first flush of enthusiasm wears off

We’ve all done it.  Started the year, month, week or even the day full of big plans and enthusiasm only to find that the goal was more challenging than expected and that the initial enthusiasm wasn’t enough to carry us through to successful completion.

What to do then?

Here are some thoughts about how to stay productive and how to succeed at the difficult things.

1. Start with why

Simon Sinek was right.  You have to start with WHY.  Why are you undertaking this project, task, goal, job or contract?  Many years ago, as a member of a voluntary organisation I undertook the preparatory training of all the incoming chapter Presidents for one year.  As part of the training weekend I gave them each a bright yellow card.  The heading at the top read,

“The reasons I am taking on the role of President:”

I asked them to complete the card and to take it home and put it somewhere special.  “There will come a day when you ask yourself – Why did I agree to do this? That’s when you go and get this card and study it” I told them.

It worked.  The organisation saw fewer mid-term resignations than usual that year.

Your turn.  What are the goals you’ve got bogged down with, the tasks you’ve lost enthusiasm for or the projects that have slid down to the bottom of the priority list?  Ask yourself, “What are the benefits I will see when I succeed at this?”  “Why did I originally want to do it?”

Sometimes, the world has changed so much since you made the plan that it’s no longer relevant to pursue that outcome.  More often it’s simply a matter of remembering why it’s important and you’ll rekindle the enthusiasm.

2. Know your preferences

Do you prefer to focus on one thing at a time or are you more productive when you have multiple projects running?  It’s important to know this about yourself.

Linked to cognitive styles and your preferred hemisphere, there’s a real personality difference here.  Left-brainers usually prefer to work on one project and see it through to the end before starting the next one.  Right-brainers often do better with multiple projects and regular shifts in the type of work.

If you’re more left-brained and you find yourself running out of motivation for a task or project, you might regain some enthusiasm by re-visiting the overall plan.  The complete story will usually be more exciting than the particular bit you’ve reached right now.  Seeing how each stage sets up the next and the way the result build up to the successful conclusion is often all that’s needed to get a left-brained thinker back on track.

If you’re more right-brained in your approach, you may find that switching to another project and doing something completely different is the way to stay productive.  If that’s the case for you, you may find it helpful to plan a period of time with two or three major projects running concurrently.  When your enthusiasm for one begins to ebb, you can switch to another and give yourself a change of pace or style for a while and still work on important tasks.

3. Plan your rewards

When you achieve a significant goal or complete an important project you may feel that is a reward in itself.  That may be true.  However, if you are finding it tough to sustain the level of activity that will get you the results you want, consider building in some form of reward.

For example, you might plan to reward yourself when the whole project is done.  The reward could be some time off to make a trip somewhere enjoyable.  That doesn’t have to mean an exotic foreign holiday – it could simply be an afternoon in the local park or a weekend visiting a special friend or relative.  This can then serve the dual purpose of rewarding your achievement and relaxing before you start the next big thing.

Perhaps more usefully, you could build in more regular rewards for achieving smaller tasks that contribute to your overall goals.  A half-hour break for a cup of coffee and a chat with a colleague might be a good reward for something that’s had you focused at your desk for 2 hours or more.  Treating yourself to some new music or a movie could be the reward for making a series of phone calls or selling a certain amount of products.  Setting aside an evening to spend on a neglected hobby or to meet up with a friend might feel like a good compensation for reaching a milestone in your major goals.

The important thing to consider is what makes you feel good.  What would you enjoy looking forward to?  What would motivate you to stick at the current task so that you could complete it and enjoy your reward?

4. Don’t suffer in silence

There are times for all of us when we feel overwhelmed by either the amount of work we’ve taken on or the challenging nature of that work.   When that happens, you may be inclined to hunker down and try to work through the problem on your own.  That doesn’t always work.  In fact, most people find that once they get into that state of feeling overwhelmed, they become less and less productive.

So what’s the answer?  Talk to someone.

If you have a coach, that’s easy.  Your coach is on your side and will help you think through the difficulties and re-focus on the important tasks.  That kind of conversation will break you out of the overwhelm and put things back in proportion.

If you don’t have a coach, talk to a friend or colleague you trust.  (And make a note to find a coach for the future!)  Two heads really are better than one and sometimes just the process of explaining your difficulty to someone else will begin to make it clearer to you.


…and finally


If you’ve done all of the above and you’re still not making any progress, call it a day.  Go home, relax, do something you enjoy and accept that you’re not perfect.  Recognise that you can begin again tomorrow and the fact that today wasn’t as productive as it could have been isn’t the end of the world.

The real secret of success is not to give up.  In NLP we say, ‘there’s no failure – only feedback’.  George Bernard Shaw put it more eloquently:

“In a good cause there is no failure, only delayed success”

[Video] Making sense of lockdown with the SCARF model

I had the pleasure of speaking at an online event organised by Thabiso Mailula of the Subconscious Frequency Academy recently and thought you might be interested in hearing what I had to say about how the SCARF model can help you make sense of lockdown. If you haven’t come across it before, the SCARF model is a piece of neuroscience that focusses on the social concerns that drive people’s behaviour.

Your Personal SCARF Inventory

Having watched this video you will no doubt have some ideas about how this model can shed light on the behaviour of people around you and help you lead your team more effectively.To aid you in formulating your thoughts, I’ve created a downloadable grid, which you can use in a variety of ways.

For instant access to your personal SCARF inventory, click here and enter your details on the next page…

[Video] How to assess your own development needs

Sometimes people come to me and say: “I don’t really know what I need, but I know I need something.” Which is interesting – because how would you know that you need something if you have no idea what it is? And yet somehow we do.

So I got thinking about this and I believe there are some ways we can figure out – for ourselves – what our development needs are…

[Video] The truth about NLP Practitioner training

The modular way we run our NLP Practitioner training programme at Brilliant Minds means the course lasts for 20 days and is spread out over 5 months.

So at the end of the 10th day (about 3 months in) on our most recent course, we asked 5 people if they would tell us how they were feeling about the training, what they were getting out of it, and how it compared with what they thought they were going to get out of the course.

Then we went back to them right at the very end of the course, after 20 days, and asked them to tell us how they were feeling about the whole experience then.

This is what they said…

[Article] Keeping your brain active

During lockdown, I’ve been chatting to my Mum on the phone more regularly than usual. Being over 70, she’s even more restricted than me in her daily activities. We’ve discussed a lot of different topics in the last three months and there is one subject that keeps recurring:

How do you keep your brain active if you can’t go out and get some exercise? We know that physical exercise is one of the best ways to protect your cognitive health, but when it’s been pouring with rain for a week and you can’t even go and push a trolley round the supermarket, what can you do?

It’s a serious question for many people. Isolation is putting a strain on mental health, we don’t want to add cognitive decline due to inactivity to our list of woes. Doing the crossword or logic puzzles can help, but we know that what really stimulates the brain is new experience and movement.

Which took me back to some work I did with my friend Jane Battenberg (www.changewithin.com)…

If you’ve been reading my newsletters for a long time you may remember some years ago Jane ran a couple of workshops for me around the subject of neural plasticity and its uses in coaching. She devised some wonderful exercises, many involving activities done with the non-preferred hand.

So, discussing this with Mum, we came to the conclusion that simply doing normal everyday tasks with the non-preferred hand could be good exercise for the brain. Mum’s somewhat ambidextrous – she’s always been able to write legibly with either hand, so we assumed that some tasks would be more challenging than others.

The next day, she reported that she’d washed up with the ‘wrong’ hand without any damage to the china or glassware. She’d also attempted to brush her teeth with her left hand and found that much more difficult. However, she did say that it made her laugh so much that she had to stop even trying to brush her teeth for a few minutes and I figured that had to be a good thing.

Now, I’m left-handed and also somewhat ambidextrous, so I thought that brushing my teeth with my right hand wouldn’t be a big deal. But I had to have a go! It wasn’t really difficult and I thought I was doing quite well, until I noticed that my left hand wouldn’t keep still. Every movement I made with my right hand was being mirrored by my left. It was almost as if my left hand was saying ‘oh, give it to me!’

This reduced me to fits of giggles. Again, I figured that had to be a good thing. We can all do with something to laugh about just now.

I’m still practising brushing my teeth with my right hand AND keeping my left hand still at the same time. Not easy, but if it’s giving my brain a workout and making me laugh (not to mention sparkling teeth!) then it’s got to be a good thing.

Over to you – are you up for the challenge? Can you brush your teeth with your non-preferred hand? Does it make you laugh?

I’d love to hear how you get on.

[Article] Lessons from Lockdown

It’s not over yet, but the lockdown that has seen millions of people all over the world confined to their homes for weeks on end has been eased in the UK and I’m happy to see that our friends and colleagues in many other countries are gradually regaining the freedom to leave their homes and spend time together.

In the early stages, psychological models relating to change, grief and uncertainty were relevant.  People went through predictable, but no less painful, experiences of shock, denial, emotional outbursts, depression and anxiety as the threat of Covid-19 led to governments around the globe imposing social distancing measures and the ‘stay at home’ directives that we came to know as ‘lockdown’.

It seems impossible to me that anything will return entirely to what we think of as ‘normal’.  We have been changed by this experience, individually, collectively and indelibly.  The nature of these changes, however, is different for each person and for each community, each organisation and each nation.

As I write, emotions are running high in communities, countries and on-line as the world reacts to the news of the death of George Floyd in police custody.  When I stand back from the emotions and view the scenes as a psychologist, I can’t help thinking that the weeks of lockdown are contributing to the depth of feeling about Black Lives Matter.  Those weeks of lockdown have affected everyone.

I live alone.  I’m accustomed to days I spend alone, working in my home office.

I’m not accustomed to whole weeks, months where I am ‘home alone’ and can’t go out.

As I’ve made my way through weeks of enforced isolation and a long list of ‘lockdown projects’ my mind flits between the experience and the analysis of the experience.  In NLP terms, I’m switching between 1st and 3rd positions.  At times I’ve been fascinated by my own – and other people’s – reactions to the situation, and at times I’ve simply been reacting.

So what have I learned?

  1. I’ve learned… that although we have all, in theory, been subjected to the same rules each person has had a different experience of ‘lockdown’.  If you have been at home with your family your experience will have been very different from mine.  Stressful for different reasons, enjoyable for different reasons.  People who are working at home have a different experience from those on furlough, which is different again from the ‘key workers’ who have been going to work as usual but dealing with unusual events. Lockdown means something different to each person.
  2. I’ve learned… that the experience and how we feel about it changes on an almost daily basis. The routine that felt satisfying and productive one day can feel constraining and pointless on another.  For no apparent reason, the whole situation can suddenly feel intolerable.  On another day it feels like a gift – a time to rest and re-think.  All of these reactions are valid.
  3. I’ve learned… that human beings are social animals and it’s not good for us to be isolated. There is a reason why solitary confinement is regarded as the most severe form of punishment.  It’s important we take care of our mental health as well as our physical well-being.  Pretending everything is ok and I’m coping isn’t a good strategy on days when I’m not.
  4. I’ve learned… that hugs are an important and necessary part of life. (I thought I knew that, but I know it in a new way now)
  5. I’ve learned… that the telephone is a wonderful invention and hearing the sound of your loved ones’ voices is precious.
  6. I’ve learned… that video conferencing is a great tool for all kinds of virtual social interaction – in the absence of REAL social interaction.
  7. I’ve learned… that some businesses have reported quicker, more focused and more productive meetings via video conference. Some workers are finding it easier to focus on individual tasks when working from home.  Some companies say that working from home has increased trust – in both directions – between workers and management.
  8. I’ve learned… that you cannot make eye contact on a video conference. That moment in a face-to-face meeting when you catch the eye of a colleague and affirm that your thinking is aligned on this issue?  It’s impossible via video conference.  You are alone.  No-one knows who’s looking at whom and you can’t create a private glance of complicity.
  9. I’ve learned… (the hard way) that days of back-to-back video meetings are even more exhausting than days of back-to-back meetings in person. Experts suggest that the extra concentration required to pick up non-verbal signals and the stress of constantly seeing yourself on screen contribute to this.
  10. I’ve learned… that I’m a reasonably good cook but my repertoire is in need of enhancement. I’m really looking forward to being able to visit a restaurant and enjoy a meal I didn’t have to cook myself. Even more, I’m looking forward to eating meals with friends and family.
  11. I’ve learned… (almost) that when the situation in my ‘locus of concern’ is hard to understand, fraught with uncertainty and full of emotion, my best strategy is to focus on my ‘locus of control’. When the going gets tough, I work on my projects.  I wrote my list of ‘lockdown projects’ in the early weeks, when it became clear that normal life was on hold for the duration.  I considered taking a rest.  The idea of metaphorically putting my feet up and resting for three months had a certain appeal (especially when I was still recovering from what was probably The Virus) but when I thought about the future I realised I wanted to be able to look back on this time and remember it with some fondness or pride in what I had achieved.  I knew I didn’t want to see it as a wasted opportunity.  So I’ve been working on all the ‘one day’ projects.
  12. I’ve relearned… that human beings are adaptable. Already, the ideas of going out to a bar or coffee shop, or inviting your friends over for a party seem almost unthinkable.  The return to some form of normality in terms of going out of the house and interacting with other people may be as disruptive for some as the original lockdown.  But after everything we’ve experienced over the past few months, I think we’re up to the challenge!

What have you learned, or re-learned, during lockdown?  I’d love to hear what insights you’ve been having.

[Video] Secrets of successful group training

I recently read a piece of research that suggested that group training programmes just don’t work – that they are ineffective and fail to deliver on the objectives that they were designed to fulfil. Now you can imagine, for me, that was quite disappointing research to read. Because my experience is that group training is actually a great experience for people and usually does deliver on exactly what it was designed to achieve.

So it got me thinking about why some training programmes might not work, when others do. And to be honest, most of what I came up with is nothing to do with what the trainers are doing, and very little to do with the content of the workshop. It’s actually all to do with the way it’s set up…

[Video] Why are women treated differently from men at work?

Sometimes people ask me why it is that women seem to get overlooked for promotions and why we have the gender pay gap in the UK that we have. As well as all those other questions about why women are treated differently at work.

I don’t have all the answers, obviously, but I do have some – and one of them goes back to a very fundamental principle which I think is often overlooked – and it’s this…

[Video] The power of storytelling

It was recently World Book Day and it gave me an opportunity – and an excuse – to run my fingers lovingly over my bookshelves and ponder on some of the books that have been most influential in my life. And some of the books I’ve just loved so much I’ve gone back to over and over again.

I started thinking about the whole issue of stories and why they’re so important to us as human beings…

[Article] It’s virtually the same

I’ve said on several occasions, that I’m not keen on the idea of running virtual training programmes and workshops.  I believe that when you all get in the same room and breathe the same air, something different happens, that is impossible to recreate through virtual media.

Having said that, I’m very mindful that this may the only option we have available to us for some weeks or months to come.  That getting in the same room may be impossible for a time.  Consequently, this conundrum has been on my mind.  Am I just being a bit of a Luddite?  Is it, in fact, perfectly possible to run successful workshops via virtual media?

The reality is, I don’t know.  But I’m about to find out.  I’m going to take the plunge and run some events on-line.  In the same way that I’ve had to run a lot of meetings virtually, that I would have preferred to do face-to-face.

What I’m hoping is going to happen, not just for me, but for everyone is this:

If we make more use of virtual communications technology, we’ll get more comfortable and confident with it.  And once we’re comfortable and confident with it, we’ll be able to distinguish between the kind of interaction that lends itself to virtual meetings and the interactions where we do in fact benefit form being together in the same room in reality.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences and plans.