Category Archives: Uncategorized

What fear can look like in those we love – How to see the person behind the behaviours through family isolation

26 Mar, 2020 at 3:29 pm

As I write the world is battling COVID-19.  My son is throwing a basketball at the outside of the house and every bang reverberates around the walls.  I’m spiky, unsettled, short tempered and exhausted.  It would be so easy to snap at him, allow my frustration at the world to be thrown at him for a moment.  Better still I could throw a spiked invitation of combat to my partner to ‘sort out the children!’, ‘Can’t you see I’m working!’

BUT I know my need to fight is not about them.  It’s about me.  My fear.  My powerlessness.  My overwhelm.  My inability to know what to do or when it will be over.

As I breathe, I can see my son is outside in the fresh air, not staring at a screen and he is healthy.  He is playing ball alone to manage his sadness and bewilderment.  He misses his friends; he’s bored because I am working and nothing in his life feels quite the same to him right now.  I can let the sound of the ball fade and see him and his needs.  Maybe I’ll play with him when I have finished writing, maybe my sense is to play now.

Because, that is the thing; fear and sadness don’t show up as a neatly identified package of tears or a need to talk.  They look like sulking, snappiness, arrogance.  Constant barbs, or attention seeking, even a banging ball.  A refusal to answer a question or a spiky rejection.  Our partner’s fear and sadness might look like withdrawal, apathy, critical coldness, sarcasm, or spotting only the things we miss or get wrong.  Trying to start an argument or even full-blown anger.

Being outward does not mean we accept these behaviours and negate our needs, but it can show us how we find a way through together and re-set some boundaries if required. Stop us falling into collusive patterns or combative behaviour.  Avoid venting our frustration, pain and fear at those we can objectify around us because momentarily the blaming makes us feels better.

So, in service of those we love, for our families, for us; we breathe, we pause, we seek the outward view, a place of understanding, love and re-connection to the person behind the behaviours that are driving us mad.

Ask; what are they afraid of?  What might be making them feel powerless, out of control, lost in uncertainty or just alone?

When you see the person you love behind the behaviours, your way of being with them will naturally follow.  Maybe you do, with compassion, re-set a boundary that you need.  It could be you have a sense to find a way of either being in a different physical space to them for a while or request a conversation about both of your fears.

Or maybe you just ask how they are feeling and listen.  Be there for them, now.

Together you can allow the emotion to pass and start to glimpse some hope again. Plan again or and I am British; make them a cup of tea.

We are all scared, none of us can fully know what to do and we are all facing loss to one degree or another. If we can hold the humanity of others in our hearts through that, we can even, if in only this one way, be at peace in moments through this.

Wishing you all good health.


What if?…

6 Mar, 2020 at 2:59 pm

As I write today it seems Coronavirus is impacting on people across the globe and each client I speak with is trying to calculate, predict and plan options around a variety of unknowns.

As human beings ‘not knowing’ can ignite a plethora of inward mindset boxes, and often unhelpful thinking patterns can emerge.  Today I thought I would share some of my unhelpful thinking styles and how I’m realising my inward focus actually makes me less resourceful and far more stressed than is useful, at a time when rational thinking is needed.

  • The Mental filter: This is me metaphorically putting on completely opaque sunglasses which filter out rational thinking.  I start to only notice what my ‘emergency’ filter wants me to, and I dismiss anything that doesn’t fit.  This filter strips away rational, systemic, practical thinking and replaces it with stress filled, panic based thoughts.  I become suspended in a space of overwhelm and unknown and stop actually moving forward resourcefully. I get caught in the media stories, the what ifs, all the unresourceful evidence to ignite my fears…

Alternatively, I can take a breath and ask; Am I only factoring in the bad things?  Am I filtering out the facts?  Am I purely focusing on the bad things for me?  If I take off the doom and gloom glasses and stop seeing how bad it is for me can I see differently? Can I see the global/systemic/ external implications and needs?  Can I see people who going to be far worse off than me that may need help?  Can I see a more realistic picture that will bring more resilience and peace to me and those around me?  But most importantly can I also see how I can help.

  • Catastrophising; This is when my imagination becomes a disaster movie script writer. I imagine and believe that the worst possible things will happen.  Now when a government says plan for the worst it is important to think through the practical and rational elements of the situation.  However, if I allow my mindset to move to ‘catastrophic’ before there is a true emergency all I will spread is a sense of panic and disaster.  What am I like to live and work within this space?  What are my clients, team, my family picking up from me?  Am I recruiting others into my catastrophising box maybe just so I feel justified for being in there?

Actually, in this moment, can I stop and see the impact of my disaster movie thinking. Can I move back into the reality of right now and then think through options.  Can I stay responsive to collectively support anyone around me who is genuinely unable to feel safe? Can I climb out of the disaster movie and live in life able to see just what needs to be done?

  • Binary thinking: I feel that in times like these I can slip into a way of thinking that paints everything or everyone as either bad or good, right or wrong, safe or dangerous moving my mindset to exaggerate extremes.  I see me become competitive, combative, me vs. others in my need to protect me and all that matters to me. Others become threats to my plans, my safety, my needs, or they have something I need, and they are useful to me.  But what are the consequences of me potentially alienating, manipulating or creating foes from those around me? I disconnect, separate myself, I isolate myself in every sense of the word.

If I pause, remember that each person around me is unique and complex.  They have their own needs and are probably already out of their own comfort zone finding their way in this uncertainty. Seeing them as people again, I can reconnect to the fact that we are facing this challenge together, surely better united than separate or competing and alone.

If I can ignite curiosity towards my own unhelpful thinking patterns and the way I see behaviours in others, maybe I can find compassion and understanding in their actions before I judge and separate. If I can suspend my unhelpful thinking patterns and keep myself responsive, maybe in a global moment like this I can stay responsive, collaborative and care for those I love whilst in turn seeing where I can help others.

If you turn outward to this global crisis, how might you be able to help too?

Will psychological safety and mindset be the silver bullet for organisational transformation in 2020 and beyond?

6 Feb, 2020 at 1:06 pm

As we enter 2020 and the beginning of a new decade, will there be a silver bullet that enables leaders to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie within their disrupted industries?

Over the coming weeks, I will pen a series of articles exploring how 'Mindset' builds or reduces psychological safety and the influence that has on a leaders ability to play their part in creating a culture that supports transformation at pace.

An organisation's greatest enemy

Unless you've had your head in the sand for the last 20 years, technological and regulatory disruption has been forcing leaders to build more responsive and adaptive organisations. Yet having spent millions or in some cases billions of pounds on technology, consulting services and restructures many organisations have not seen the hoped for gains. In some cases, the C-suite eventually arrive at the haunting realisation that their people and culture have become more rigid and inflexible, creating a net increase in governance, silos and protectionist behaviour. Why might this be?

The great enemy of organisational agility is FEAR. Fear is a strong word, but leaders I work with share that they are struggling with the complexity or transformation, especially around how to deliver objectives that require significant cross-organisational collaboration. 

Expectations on leaders are high, but often the organisational culture doesn't have the psychological safety to allow for vulnerability. It's usually not okay for a leader or those further down the chain of command to say "I'm struggling with is, I need help, is anyone else struggling?". Hence, to gain some confidence back and a sense of making progress, they usually go back to a comfort zone of delivering in a siloed way. Inevitably the leaders fear siloed response gives other leaders justification to also work in the 'old way', and the organisation cannot transform and certainly not at any pace that keeps them competitive.

Another fear generating factor is uncertainty. In large complex organisations, there is no road map for significant cross-organisational transformation. Leaders will need to encourage a "Test & Learn." philosophy where project teams can find a path through the complexity. This type of culture requires a high level of trust and psychological safety to foster an experimentation mentality. 

Fear drives what the Arbinger institute describes as an 'Inward Mindset' This mindset drives a behaviour that is either self-protective or self-advancing. If an Inward Mindset takes hold during complex transformation a vicious cycle begins to occur as different parts of the organisation that need to be collaborating, become increasingly protective and disjointed. The lack of alignment reduces progress and belief in the vision. The lack of progress creates fear at the highest level of leadership, which usually results in applying more pressure which further encourages a defensive siloed inward mindset across the organisation.

This all too familiar scenario sends a challenge to leadership. Leadership must create the conditions for a psychologically safe culture. Over the coming weeks I will explore various factors that build or undermine psychological safety, including how leaders shift their thinking from an 'Inward' self-protective mindset to an 'Outward' mindset where building trust, alignment and collaboration are valued and rewarded.

Alec Grimsley is the founder of Optimus, a consultancy that supports leadership to change mindset and foster a psychologically safe culture.

What will people think?

31 Jan, 2020 at 2:30 pm

‘The must be seen as’ box in Arbinger’s Outward Mindset work is an insidious beast.  How can it be that I may have a sense of the right action to take or thing to say and yet sometimes I have to overcome a fear of voicing my idea or thought with a transient flash or catastrophising premonition of what people might think of me.  My need to be seen as not upsetting anyone, not rocking the boat, not being against the body of opinion, moves me to silence my sense.

The stifling effect of my concern or insecurity and the powerlessness of placing others view of me over the potential idea, thought or action can impact on my ability to see the people around me as people.  They feel dangerous, judging, the competition.  Contestants in an imaginary competition that I have to win…not a great way to live or see the world!

But what actually is the risk in mindset terms?

If I don’t follow my sense and I hold off from sharing what I see, what’s alive in me, the sense of what is useful, then an internal dialogue begins where I have to justify myself for ignoring the sense. I experience a constant dull niggle, an internal dialogue of ‘should’ s’ and ‘shouldn’t’ that I know are not true, but they might just feel real enough to lower the volume of my own disappointment. I know I’m not living my truth.  An ill-ease descends and a knowing doubt that I am not who I would like to be, I am afraid of people and I have handed my power to an imaginary foe.

Forty odd years of slowly recognising the weight of how ‘the must be seen as box’ weighs me down and now I recognise that honouring my sense creates resilience.  I can share how something looks to me, my thoughts, my truth, calmly without any need to be right.  By contributing what feels useful by speaking up or even just acknowledging my truth even if I quietly without fear sense it is not right, or not kind or useful to share. I know I have stood in the responsibility of who I am and although my views may not be approved of, or liked, by honouring my sense or speaking up brings a place of peace, a tranquillity.  From this stillness my fear recedes and the people around me are people again, probably all overcoming their own doubts and fears too.

Next time you have a sense to speak up about an idea you have, maybe try overcoming the maelstrom of justification and any fear of what others may think of you and see what happens…

Turning 2020 outward, one relationship at a time

8 Jan, 2020 at 1:42 pm

We have just experienced a time of potentially sharing our time with others and reflecting and enjoying the spirit of our respective beliefs and traditions. For some this is a time of great connection, light, love and joy, for others maybe some sadness and loneliness, frustration and annoyance. For some the ‘expectation’ to be happy, connected to others and fulfilled, can bring pressure and disappointment.

Whatever your experiences were, we now move towards the closing of 2019. The gift of letting go, putting things to rest, closing the year and the chapter. The chance to create the possibility of new beginnings, hope and relationships.

Could a part of the new beginnings include a resolution to see those closest to you in a more outward way? Even just one step on the mindset continuum towards outward?

Could you reflect on the year and think about those closest to you. Those with whom maybe your relationship was not where you hoped it would be through the holidays or the year. Maybe someone who you no longer wish the relationship to be where it has been in the past and you would like to feel more at peace with how they are in your life.

Could you spend five minutes re-seeing the person they are behind the behaviours you are impacted by?

  1. Seek to see the person behind the behaviours. What fears, challenges, needs and pressures may have caused them to act in the way they have?
  2. In what ways may we have increased their fears, their vulnerability or amplified their need to act out their doubts in the ways we find uncomfortable.
  3. Have we ever been afraid or vulnerable and acted in ways that may annoy others?
  4. Where could we seek within ourselves; curious enquiry, compassion, acceptance and understanding when others display ‘interesting behaviours’?

Finding greater depths of tolerance, understanding or just curiosity for the people who we are in key relationships with does not make us victims, it does not allow them to win. This is not necessarily choosing to forgive and forget. This is seeing their fears, their pressures their needs, seeing them as people. No more or less human than us, and then responding, acting on what we see in the light of this clear sight.


If in 2020 if we can build a practice of curious enquiry when the closest people around us share ‘interesting’ behaviours, or perhaps we choose more often to talk only when speaking will bring us and others peace. If the conversations we have are person to person, having backbone with heart. If we seek to see the person behind the behaviours, see their vulnerability, fears and needs and honour them and ourselves with peace, compassion, curiosity and act in the light of that seeing… what could the change be?

What could finding a space to bring light to the world and to turn the world outward bring if, as we go into 2020, we all turn outward, one relationship at a time?

Have a peace-filled, loving New Year.

Gill, Arbinger UK.

How might mindset be relevant on how agile your project is?

13 Nov, 2019 at 1:51 pm

In the latest State of Agile report, the survey responses indicate that organisational cultural issues remain the leading impediments to adopting and scaling agile. General resistance to change, and organizational culture that is at odds with agile values rank as two of the top challenges.

So, which of the key AGILE values might mindset be relevant to? Well our mindset can be resistant and inward or responsive and outward, so mindset can impact on how we respond to change over following the plan.

If change happens our default setting may be to turn inward, we may worry about the impact on us, the consequences for us. Will we know what to do? Will we have the skills required? Will we be ok?

I remember when a new team member joined us, they were coming in to perform a lot of the tasks that I had previously done. I had moved into a new role that I knew could bring a lot of value with but still as the new team member started, my focus turned to me;

What if they are instantly better than me?

What if everyone likes them more than me?

What if they are ambitious and better than me, and more popular…what could happen to me?

In that mindset, what might my behaviours have been to the new team member that was freeing me to undertake my new role?

What could the costs and consequences of my mindset have been?

All this focus is on self…this limits our ability to think outward and respond in the moment to what needs to be done.

If we are outward in the face of change, we can clearly ask ourselves how we might be a problem for the change. Focus on the needs of others and the organisation we work for and the customers or stakeholders we work with.

In that mindset we can stay agile and responsive to whatever the right thing to do.

Coaching is to fix, mend or improve, and I am not broken and I’m doing ok…I don’t need a mindset coach

13 Nov, 2019 at 12:41 pm

I don’t believe I, my clients or any person has a broken mindset, or even a damaged way of seeing. I do believe however, we can put blinkers on at times, often to feel safe in the moment, and we forget to take them off and this alters our view. We just don’t realise that we are seeing in this filtered way. Outward mindset coaching is time to share a space where there is a chance of seeing every situation through a different lens, to see a new view and take off the blinkers we may have picked up on the way.

Why?  Well because we are in relationship all the time, be it with our family, colleagues, friends, and how we see them, how we see the world reflects how we see ourselves.  Everything we do is influenced by how we see this connectivity and these relationships.  

I am in relationship with these words as I type, I could share these words worrying about how you may see or view me.  Write driven by my fear that someone may use these words to judge me, measure me, dislike me.  Should I write to make me seem ‘nice’, kind, a good person?  Maybe I could write to impress you, to choose eloquent words from a thesaurus of my own pomposity to show you how much more I know than you and therefore how I am better than you and you need my help, my coaching services for you to be better too…Or, alternatively I share with you how hard my life has been and how I have earnt your understanding, pity even and admiration. None of these views are true, but they may feel real to me on some level.

I believe that if I wrote to meet my need for you to like me, be impressed by me, admire me or buy my coaching services, you would feel that as you read.  You will form a relationship with me, you will see me, through my words and feel the disconnect.

But most importantly on some level I know I would feel the disconnect too, I would know I was self-serving and this would sit with me and it would draw me to see myself and my relationship with all of you in a blinkered light. In addition, I could then believe I need to live up to the image I had created…

So, for me, Outward Mindset coaching sits in the space of philosophy, a way of seeing, choosing how we live, not about looking at what is broken and fixing it.  We are all whole, but at times we stop seeing all our connectivity.  The blinkers don’t break us or destroy us; they just separate us from being wholly at peace with how we sit in relationship, with ourselves, others and the world.

So, outward mindset coaching is not to mend, it is to see.

What do you think?

Do You Assume Too Much?

1 Feb, 2017 at 1:15 pm

Do you test assumptions?  If you assume something, you may be taking for granted that it is true without checking in with the other person. How do you know if you are making an assumption? How do you know whether someone is making assumptions about you? It’s easy to clarify and confirm your assumptions with the other person but only if you first notice that one has been made. Do you infer meaning to others’ words or actions without questioning?  If you infer something you draw a conclusion about something you don’t know by drawing on knowledge of what you do know. Are you able to see that you may have assigned meaning to someone else’s communication either written or spoken, without clarifying their reasoning and intent? Part of the mindset of Vital Conversations is catching yourself applying your own thinking, experience or potential bias to the conclusions you draw from the data others give you. Are you needing to have a conversation with someone where you can see that you have made assumptions or drawn inferences? Download our  conversation planning tool, challenge your own thinking; see things for what they are by challenging your story about the situation and the person.  Get back to the core data or if you prefer the non-emotional reality of what needs to be addressed and plan for the conversation. Then embark on the conversation and lead yourself again by utilising 2nd generation mindset staying curious about possible assumptions and inferences. If during the conversation or email exchange your “assumption antennae” twitch, then there is a reason – pause – take a breath, try to step one rung down your ladder – and then ask a question.  “I’m wondering if either of us might be making assumptions here – can I check this with you?” Nigel Singer Mediator

Missing the Moon

3 Jan, 2017 at 12:41 pm

According to space expert Dave Woods, if you were to aim a rocket at the moon but your aim was 1 degree off, you would find your spacecraft missing its lunar target by 1,978 miles, a pretty big miss by anyone’s standards. It’s a similar story when you procrastinate over a key conversation: it can be a significant factor in determining the ultimate destination of a business project, relationship or key life goal.


This genre of conversation is like a fork in the road. In your heart of hearts you know what needs to be said and having the conversation is your best shot at taking the direction that’s most likely to benefit you, the employees performance or some wider goal. When you procrastinate, you run the risk of taking the other fork. A week later you’re heading down a path that feels further and further away from what’s right or useful and you’re often increasingly frustrated. Weeks or months later, you find yourself many miles from where you want to be. How did you get so far off track?


So why do we do it, why do we struggle with leading ourselves when we know we need to have these conversations? It may be that we are unsure or afraid.


  • We know there is a high degree of uncertainty in the situation. Opening a can of worms could lead to tears, silence or a more fundamental issue that’s even harder to talk about.
  • We are aware that these conversations do not always solve the issue in one hit and that you may need more time to resolve it, creating ongoing anxiety between the conversations.
  • We can have long-held beliefs that conflict and disagreement are not psychologically or physically safe.
  • We often find conversations like this overwhelming, we know we may become defensive and say things we don’t really mean and make things worse!
  • We hate the levels of anxiety these confrontations invoke and you feel emotionally drained after a conversation of this nature.

  • However, what is the cost of not having them? Do they just resolve and go away?
    Who do you need a conversation with?
    Alec Grimsley- Author of Vital Conversations