Great tool for teams

I’m a big fan of appreciative inquiry because it’s all about accentuating the positive, as the old song says.  When we start by looking at what’s working well, what’s good, and then dream about how we want things to be, what we could create, we take out the fear and threat and resistance that can be there when we focus on “problems”.  AI can be the framework for a coaching conversation, a supervision conversation, an away day planning session, or a team building meeting.  You can use postits and props, big flip charts and coloured markers,  have people working in pairs or small groups. It’s a dynamic process that ends with a clear action plan, and so it’s easier to engage people and keep them engaged.

Appreciative Inquiry modelThere’s loads online for you to discover, so go exploring, accentuate the positive, and enjoy!



13 tips for working brilliantly with people

Space to Think is a new project for women running small to medium sized charities or social enterprises.  Here are 13 tips distilled from the wisdom of the current group.  They were so good, we just had to share them:

  1. Use the probationary period
  2. Recruit for attitude – it’s easier to train people in any skills they may lack
  3. Don’t be limited by your budget: you can bring almost any skill in through volunteers
  4. Every day is an opportunity to find out something amazing about the people in your organisation
  5. Sometimes the answer or solution to your quandary comes from someone unexpected
  6. Find out what resources and investment are needed to bring out the best in each individual on your team
  7. ACAS is there for you and is free and accessible
  8. Clarify your communication and be clear in getting your message across
  9. Recognise the whole person
  10. Tell people what they’re brilliant at
  11. Don’t delay telling people what they need to know
  12. Be compassionate in everything you do
  13. Leave your own emotions aside when dealing with difficult issues.

For more information about Space to Think, contact


No Longer Pursuing NLP

testimonial_image.jpgI like to learn new things.  I’m curious about how different people work, and I’m curious about what works for different people.  Before I started on my coaching journey with Myles Downey and the School of Coaching, I’d been to one of those cheap one day introductions to NLP.  I decided there and then not to pursue it, mostly because I was concerned about the lack of ethical framework; the way that selling stuff seemed to segue into therapy without there being any boundaries; the lack of a sense of responsibility for a client’s well-being.  I was lucky enough to get a place on the School of Coaching course, which led to a genuine academic qualification and placed values and respect for the authority of the individual at the heart of everything we did.  As I developed in my learning, I realised that there was a link between person centred coaching and the counselling training I’d done way back in the 1980s.  The goals and focus of coaching and counselling may be different, but the values around how we work respectfully with people are the same, and both need to sit within an ethical framework, one in which the practitioner is accountable to the client, preferably through a professional body.

So how did I find myself contemplating NLP again?  First of all, there was the offer of a free two day course that came through a trusted network.  And I have friends who work with NLP, friends I respect.  And I’d been very pleasantly surprised by a CPD seminar presented by Sue Knight through the EMCC.  And, when I rang the person delivering the training, it was clear that ethics were important to her too, and her background was in psychology, rather than sales. I did the first two days, and enjoyed them.  I’m a magpie for things that may be useful, at some point, in my work.  Some of that introductory thinking made sense, and I was intrigued by the eye movement stuff.  I had a week in which to sign up for the next two days – which would get me a diploma! – after which the price would rise dramatically (beginning to see a pattern?) and, somewhat uncharacteristically for me, I signed – and paid – up.  But by the end of the “diploma” weekend (no-one fails, by the way), I had made a very firm decision to end my dalliance with NLP.

So what happened?  Well, first of all the trainers started to disclose some of the more subtle tricks of the trade.  They didn’t talk about “if you decide to go further and take the practitioner course”, they talked about “when”.  There were ways of using language that manipulated the “client”.  I began to have the very uneasy feeling that I’d been duped into doing this course because they’d used suggestive language during the freebie.  My sense of uneasiness grew throughout the weekend, a gut feeling of dis-ease.  So much of the focus was on the practitioner influencing, leading, planting suggestions, and I could see how easy it would be to manipulate someone without their having a clue about what was happening.  Sales and personal development should not, in my mind, share the same bed.  There was no talk about empathy, none of the beautiful active listening that is central to person centred approaches, none of the creativity that we can bring to a coaching session through following the client’s interest.  There are some useful things, to be sure, and I wouldn’t trash everything by any means; but the most valuable thing I learnt was that sometimes you have to take a wrong path to get back on the right one, and I have been incredibly blessed by having the teachers – in counselling, coaching, yoga, and life – that I have had along the way.  I want to continue to develop and work in a way that honours the other’s own resourcefulness and integrity.

Space to Think – Women Leaders of Smaller Voluntary Organisations

Nourishing space for women running small to medium voluntary organisations

Starting February 27th – join up now!

How might things be different for you in 9 months’ time if you have regular support in an environment where everyone has particular skills and expertise that they share, and where there’s space and time to think, reflect, gather strength? 

This is probably the most difficult and challenging period in modern times for small to medium charities and social enterprises, especially those working with vulnerable people.  You are working long hours, multi-tasking, keeping your boards and management committees up to speed, and trying to keep your staff team healthy and buoyant.  But who’s looking after you?  And where do you find the space to think, reflect, share with others in a similar position?

I have created this monthly group with you and your needs in mind.  Working in a group of up to 6 women, initially for 6 months, we will focus on:

our challenges our gifts
our issues our shining futures

Each session will have time and space for members to work on individual issues, as well as focusing on a specific theme.  We may bring in guest speakers.  I suggest the themes below, and more may emerge as we work together:

*money – raising it and managing it *meetings – making them work for you *people
*politics *time *taking care

I am mindful that your organisational budgets are severely stretched, and one of the first things to go is usually paying for your own support.  Running the group from my home in South London will keep the costs down, and I can throw in lunch and a taxi service to and from the station.  The cost for this pilot introductory programme of 6 sessions, each of 3 hours, will be £175.

I’m a qualified executive coach and member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council.  I have been running a successful coaching practice, working with charity CEOs and senior managers since 2010.  I’m also CEO of Share Community and have worked as a senior manager in the voluntary sector since 1996.

We’re starting in February, and places are filling fast, so if you’re interested in finding out more, please e-mail me straight away at .

Most sessions will be on Fridays, with the occasional Wednesday or Thursday.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

With very best wishes,


Keeping the faith

Yesterday I went to one of those events where you get to hear about a rare new pot of money, some of which may trickle down to small voluntary organisations in order that they may make a difference to increasingly desperate people’s lives.  That’s after the big guys have creamed off all their profits….but let’s not go there.  I met up with a colleague who runs a small mental health charity that does extraordinary things and promotes creativity, positivity, and healthy lifestyle to people who are struggling with their mental health.

“I’m losing staff,” said my colleague.  “They can’t cope with the number of people who are dying.  Four of our service users committed suicide over the past few months, and we learnt of another three who died through self-neglect.”

Just hold that thought: we live in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, and yet vulnerable people, all of whom have had contact with our mental health systems, are dying because they’re not feeding themselves and nobody’s checking to see if they’re alive or dead.  What does that say about the degree to which we invest in caring – or not caring – for those who are struggling the most in our communities?

The mental health charity, MIND, received 50% more calls to its helpline in 2012/13 than in the previous year.  People are facing more complex problems, and many are being triggered by financial crises and unemployment.  The Office for National Statistics reports that suicide rates rose significantly in 2011, from 11.1 deaths per 100,000 to 11.8.  Meanwhile, the number of mental health inpatient beds has been slashed, according to a BBC News and Community Care magazine report, the findings of which were broadcast on 16th October.  A Freedom of Information question revealed that at least 1,711 beds had been closed since April 2011, including 277 between April and August 2013.  This equates to a 9% reduction in acute care provision.  At the same time, local authority spending cuts are having a massive impact on community services.  In the borough where I work, all mental health day centres have been closed; most community support work is carried out in public spaces such as coffee shops (all the more profit to Starbucks, Costa, et al), and people’s access to support is time-limited.  They can, of course, apply for personal care budgets, but the pot is diminishing, fewer people are eligible, and at my organisation we’ve seen a dramatic decrease in those being funded for placements with us.  That means that more people are lonely and scared and don’t have anywhere to go.  And then there are our colleagues on the front line of advice and support organisations, and those working with elderly people who don’t know whether to stay warm or eat….These are some of the big political issues of our time, and there are many ways in which we might attempt to tackle them.  But in the meantime, community and voluntary organisations are on the front line.  Not only do we have the increasingly challenging task of advocating for, supporting, and enabling our clients, but we also have to try to stay alive in the face of budget cuts and dwindling resources.

So how do we make sure that those of us running services stay healthy, and maintain the spirit and energy to do an increasingly demanding job – keeping our staff and volunteers buoyant; creating new ideas that someone may want to fund; writing bid after bid to bring in the money?  I asked my colleague.  “I go away,” she said.  “I get as far away as I can, preferably somewhere where I don’t speak the language and where my phone won’t work.”  My coaching clients invest in time to think and vent and explore the complex issues with which they’re bombarded in the office.  Here are some other things that may help:

  1. Find a mentor/external supervisor who works some distance from where you work: use the journey to have some quiet thinking and reflection time, both there and back.
  2. Group supervision is a helpful way of sharing resources, approaches, and solutions, and I think is particularly important for organisations working in mental health.  Find someone you trust, and who knows about mental health, to facilitate.
  3. Be transparent: as far as possible keep your team in the loop with what the problem is, what you’re doing about it, and how they can help.
  4. Give people opportunities to create solutions.  That way they’ll feel that they have some power and influence in the situation.
  5. Take care of yourself: enroll in a yoga or qi gong class; learn some mindfulness techniques and incorporate meditation into your life; get plenty of aerobic exercise (I feel better on the days when I cycle to work); get plenty of daylight, and if your work space is dark, invest in a daylight lamp; eat healthy, natural foods; cut down on sugar and alcohol.
  6. People who are resilient maintain a good network of friends and supporters.  Make time for fun and friendship.
  7. You won’t have all the skills and knowledge yourself to keep your organisation on track, so make sure your team – including your board/management committee – have the skills that you don’t.  Bring in volunteers, advisors, whatever you need to make positive change happen.  Charity Days can put you in touch with people willing to work with you for free, or at a reduced rate.  Local businesses can be a great resource.  Check out Pilot Light.
  8. Build alliances and partnerships: strength and creativity in numbers!
  9. “Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.”
    Elizabeth Edwards
  10. Continue to visualise yourself and your organisation as successful; focus on what’s working.  Paying too much attention to what’s not, or to the problems, will take up brain energy that you need for getting through the tough times.

And yes, I have to work hard at all this too!  Do contact me if you’d like to join a coaching/support group, or are interested in one to one work, and please do reply with your own tips for staying alive.

Lost in the Drama Triangle

A friend waphotos describing a situation that was causing great distress to someone in her life.  It was a story of two women who had once been very close, but whose relationship had deteriorated to the extent that each was seeking police protection from the other.  As this sorry tale unfolded, I realised that there was something familiar about it.  “Could this be the drama triangle playing out?” I asked.  “Tell me more!” said my friend.

Some of you will be familiar with Stephen Karpman’s concept of the Drama Triangle.  It’s an idea originating in Transactional Analysis, or TA, and I suggest that it’s one of the most potent models available for us to understand the dynamics of encounters, relationships, and what’s going on under the surface when things go wrong.  Not only is it played out with horrible regularity, but it’s embedded in our psyches.  When we’re working with people, whether as coaches or in some other capacity, it’s vital to understand how the Drama Triangle works, to be able to spot it, and to know how to stop it playing out to what can often be a very messy end.

The word drama suggests that there are roles to be filled.  Karpman observed that there were three roles: Victim, Rescuer, and Persecutor.  You don’t need more than two players to act out the drama, although there may be a whole cast of characters.  People  move between roles.  You may make your opening speech as a Victim, and wind up as a Persecutor.  That switch between roles is what creates the drama, and the quicker the switches, the more heightened the drama.

Karpman’s first paper on his observations used fairy tales to explain the Drama Triangle.  Here’s what was going on in Hamlyn – a town plagues with rats, you’ll remember, with the Pied Piper:

  • Hamlyn’s people are plagued with rats.  Children are dying of disease.  Mayor calls in rat exterminator in a bid to Rescue the town.
  • Colourfully dressed and musical man breezes into town to Rescue the city and Persecute the rats.
  • Pied piper then becomes Victim as Persecuting mayor cheats him and refuses to pay him his fee.
  • Pied piper switches roles to become Persecutor of the town’s children, leading them towards death.
  • The mayor starts out as a Victim of the rats; then moves into Rescuer of the town; then Persecutor of the pied piper; and the Victim of the pied piper, who kills his children.
  • The children start out as persecuted Victims of the rats; then rescued Victims, and finally Victims persecuted by their Rescuer.[i]

Watch any soap opera and you’ll see multiple Drama Triangles played out.  Notice how the roles switch, and how that creates drama.  Remember how hero Othello, who had been the great general, Rescuer of Cyprus, became Victim to Iago’s thirst for power, but then turned into the ultimate Persecutor when he killed Desdemona.  A bit closer to home, and you’re probably already gaining some insight into your most recent argument with your partner, boss, or mother.  It’s all about power, blame, and taking responsibility.

Here’s a modern day story:

Althea and Brenda meet at a support group for people who are caring for elderly relatives.  Althea’s looking after her frail mother, and Brenda’s there for her father in law, whom she and her husband jointly care for.  They’ve chatted over coffee a few times, and Brenda’s invited Althea for lunch at her house.

A: It’s so nice to get out of the house for a few minutes.  I feel  really trapped most of the time.  And Mum doesn’t appreciate me – she says such awful things.  (Althea’s, Victim Mum’s Persecutor)

B: That’s awful!  You don’t deserve that.  Why don’t I come over and sit with your mum for an afternoon so that you can get out?  (Rescuer)

A: That would be wonderful!  Are you sure?

B: Anything I can do to help. (Rescuer)

Brenda goes to Althea’s house the following Tuesday.  Husband Colin is left looking after Colin’s Dad.  Brenda and Althea’s mum, Ethel, watch Countdown and have  tea and Jaffa Cakes.

E: it’s very kind of you to come, Brenda.  You seem like a very nice person.  To tell you the truth, Althea can be very nasty.  She wouldn’t have given me Jaffa Cakes.  (Victim)

B: That’s awful.  You’re such a sweet person.  Why don’t I come every week? (Rescuer)

Brenda starts to go to Althea’s house on a regular basis.  At first it starts as once a week, and Althea’s delighted to have a break.  Then Brenda makes it twice a week.  Soon she’s dropping in every day, and having tea and a cosy chat with Althea’s mum and bringing her little gifts: a home-made cake, other tasty treats.  Althea’s beginning to feel uncomfortable.  It’s as if Brenda’s taking over her mum.  And all Ethel does is say how lovely Brenda is.  One day Brenda arrives with a cottage pie.  Althea opens the door.

B: Hello Althea!  I’ve brought Ethel a cottage pie. (Rescuer)

A: But I’ve already cooked dinner.  I’ve spent a long time making her favourite . (Victim)

B: But I thought it’d be a help to you – I know you’re always so tired.  And she does love my cottage pie.

E:  Is that Brenda with my cottage pie?

A:  Yes Mum, but I’ve already cooked our dinner.  I’ve done you steak and kidney pudding.  Your favourite. (Rescuer)

E:  Well it was my favourite, but Brenda’s cottage pie is much nicer (Persecutor)

A: Well I’m just about sick of bloody Brenda!  She can take her cottage pie and shove it up her bum! (Persecutor)

Althea takes the dish out of Brenda’s hands and smashes it on the floor.

A: Just get out of my house, Brenda, and stop interfering in my life. (Persecutor)

B: You ungrateful cow!  After all I’ve done for you!  Wait until I tell Colin. (Victim)

Brenda storms off home and tells Colin all about it.

B:….and then she smashed my dish!  You need to go round there and sort her out. (Victim)

C: No Brenda, I’m not getting involved.  To be honest, I could do with some help from you with looking after Dad.  I’m sorry you’re upset, but you’ll just have to sort it out yourself.  (Adult, not playing)

Colin could have responded differently and the game could have got more explosive:

C: Right!  I’ll go round there and show her what’s what! (Rescuer of B, Persecutor of A)

Or he could have said:

C: But what about me?  I’m stuck here day after day while you go and do your good deeds.  I haven’t had a day off to play golf for weeks!  And where’s my dinner?? (Victim)

Luckily, he responded as an adult, and took the heat out by refusing to play the game.

The story could end in a number of ways.  Brenda could go into full blown Persecutor and complain to Social Services that Althea was abusing her mother.  Or they could avoid each other and decide not to speak.  Each will perceive the other as their Persecutor, and each will feel that they’re the Victim.  Everybody loses.  Althea’s mum loses a new friend, Althea and Brenda both lose friends and support, Colin finds the tension at home very trying. They could, of course, decide to apologise for speaking out of turn and being insensitive about boundaries, and they could negotiate a new way of being.  That would require them to engage their Adult selves, as Colin did in refusing to play the game.

As I thought about writing this blog, I reflected upon times in my own life when I’ve got caught up in the Drama Triangle.  It’s affected close relationships, friendships, and family dynamics.  We learn to play the game very early on in our lives.  We observe it in our families.  We learn that playing the Victim gets us attention and gives us power once we’ve found a willing Rescuer.  We learn that in order to stay safe in our families we need to adopt a Rescuer role with Mum or Dad.  We learn that being the one that takes care of everyone gives us a certain amount of power – until they all turn on us and we become the Victim!  And in families where there is addiction such as alcoholism, the Drama Triangle is clearly in evidence.  Awareness of how it works – and how to stop it – and the roles individuals tend to play can help to break a cycle of dependency and abuse.

I have seen how the Drama Triangle gets played out in dysfunctional work situations.  Have you been part of an organisation where there’s a gulf between management and frontline staff?  Where “they” always feel persecuted by “them”?  Where you’re either a goodie or a baddie or the person who gets brought in to sort it all out?  Where there’s conflict, it’s always worth looking to see if the Drama Triangle is in play.  And the only way to stop it is to not play.  That means taking personal responsibility for your feelings and your actions, and we don’t always find that easy.

Others have written very eloquently about the Drama Triangle, and it’s worth reading on a bit more.  Here’s a very succinct and clear account:  and there’s a very good description here: .  Relationships are explored here: .

I’d love to know your thoughts!  And if this chimes for you, please pass on to others.

[i] Karpman, S. (1968). Fairy tales and script drama analysis. Transactional Analysis Bulletin, 7(26), 39-43