Principles

Do you need to shift the bull?

Here are twelve principles you can apply today. Now you can stop blaming other people for the amount of bullshit in your workplace and shift it yourself.

Don't be defensive BE CURIOUS

DO WHAT:

Be curious - park your ego, ask, listen, understand. 

WHEN:

When people say things you don’t like.

WHY: 

When you’re defensive, you discourage people from being honest with you and miss countless opportunities for learning. 

You know you've got the DEFENSIVE BULL when: 

  • It’s not safe for people to speak up, challenge, question or criticize you
  • You’re hard to talk to because you take things too personally 
  • You repeat mistakes 
  • You highlight other people’s faults but can’t or won’t see your own
  • Issues escalate because you have ego-reactions and don’t question them
  • There’s a reliance on anonymous feedback tools instead of open conversation
  • There’s an elephant in the room and no one dare speak its name

You know you're shifting to CURIOSITY when: 

  • You get better at giving and receiving feedback – prompt, clear and effective
  • You ask more questions, listen better and don’t feel so scared or stressed
  • You fail fast, learn, move on
  • You have robust discussions about the things that matter most 
  • It’s safe for anyone to question you – no elephants 
  • You get better at forgiving people, including yourself, and moving on

How to shift this bull: 

  1. Notice your defensive reactions
  2. Ask yourself why you’re being defensive
  3. Ask questions to understand what’s being said
  4. Be genuinely curious – focus on building shared understanding
  5. Apply what’s useful, learn, move on
  6. Repeat endlessly!

Watch the horns: 

Be careful that your ego does not pretend to ask questions for learning, when it really intends to just trap the person, undermine them or make them look stupid. For the curiosity to cure your defensiveness, it must be genuine.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From defensiveness to curiosity

When I hear something I don’t like and notice myself getting defensive, I will start with genuine questions (including, “Why am I having this reaction?”)

Don't make excuses TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

DO WHAT:

Say what happened, own your reasons and take responsibility.

WHEN:

When you would normally excuse yourself from something for which you are actually – or could be – responsible.

WHY:

Excuses can be childish, dishonest and disempowering and they usually mean we keep having the same issues. Taking responsibility means looking for the things we CAN control and owning them – it means truly growing up.

You know you've got the EXCUSE-MAKING bull when: 

  • You’re behaving badly and then blaming your behaviour on other people
  • You’re not holding yourself accountable for your quality, productivity, safety, learning or communication
  • You frequently make excuses like “I haven’t had time”, “I haven’t had a chance” and “She was giving me attitude so I just gave it back”
  • Your workload is ridiculously high but you just keep accepting more work
  • You feel like your whole day is just reacting, not responding

You know you're shifting to TAKING RESPONSIBILITY when: 

  • You want to be responsible for your attitudes, choices and behaviours
  • You become more capable and contribute more
  • You don’t repeat so many mistakes and you recover from them more quickly
  • You chuck less of your “stuff” at other people
  • You start setting clearer boundaries and taking better care of yourself
  • You are helping to build an “Adults Only Workplace”

How to shift this bull: 

  1. Notice your excuses
  2. Turn them into reasons
  3. Own them

watch the horns:

We tend to trade excuses – I’ll accept that “traffic was terrible” rather than saying you should’ve left earlier if you’ll accept that “I haven’t had time” rather than saying I should have prioritised better. Excuses are accepted, so we keep making them. Well, even if your excuse will be accepted, try not making one. See if you can take responsibility even when nothing big is on the line. Then, when it counts, you will have had more practice.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From making excuses to taking responsibility

On one occasion when I would usually make an excuse, I will explain my reasons and take responsibility.

Don’t make excuses - TAKE RESPONSIBILITY

Don't use corporate-speak USE REAL WORDS

DO WHAT:

Use real words.

WHEN:

All the time.

WHY:

Corporate-speak or bureaucrat-speak can be impersonal and intangible. It doesn’t resonate with most people – doesn’t inform, motivate or educate – which means it doesn’t effectively communicate.  It can even aggravate.

You know you've got the CORPORATE-SPEAK bull when: 

  • Eyes glaze over and energy drains out as you address the room
  • Your vision and strategy are not understood or don’t feel real
  • Your written communications are hard to read and carry no soul or emotion 
  • You hide your reasoning in gobbledygook
  • When writing your LinkedIn profile, you threw up in your mouth a little bit

Don't use corporate speak - USE REAL WORDS

You know you're shifting to USING REAL WORDS when: 

  • People engage more with what you’re saying and what it means to them
  • People understand the vision, strategy, culture and their place in it
  • You inspire and motivate

How to shift this bull: 

  1. Catch the corporate speak
  2. Translate it into real words

watch the horns:

Real words can easily become buzzwords and corporate bulldust. Be careful you don’t replace corporate speak with something real only to have it become corporate speak through overuse. Keep it alive and tangible and always check that you’re actually communicating – not just talking while others pretend to listen. Also watch the desire to impress others with buzzwords – the few you impress will be outnumbered by people shaking their heads and sighing.

TODAY'S PRACTICE:From corporate-speak to using real words

I will translate corporate concepts into words that make sense to my audience and make sure I’m actually communicating.

Don't use corporate speak - USE REAL WORDS

Don't have an opinion if you don't need one STAY OPEN

DO WHAT:

Stay open.

WHEN:

Whenever you don’t need to have an opinion.

WHY:

Forming opinions too quickly can get in the way of open conversation, clear analysis or learning new things.

You know you've got the AUTO-OPINION bull when:

  • You have opinions on most subjects though you’re well-informed on few
  • You have a lot of preset opinions but not a lot of questions
  • While someone is communicating, you form an opinion which affects how you filter the rest of the information
  • When someone else is talking, you are mostly thinking about what you want to say and not properly listening
  • There’s no value in having an opinion but you’ve got one anyhow

You know you're shifting to STAYING OPEN when:

  • You notice an opinion forming and nudge it aside to keep listening
  • You notice the number of times in a day you used to form an opinion and how many neurons you’ve freed up by letting that go
  • You’re a better listener so more people want to talk to you and you hear more in what they’re saying
  • You notice yourself having new thoughts, ideas or view-points rather than just the automatic judgments that used to kick in all by themselves

How to shift this bull:

  1. Notice when you are forming opinions automatically
  2. Acknowledge that opinions are based on our very limited observations and interpretations of what’s happening around us at any point in time
  3. Decide to stay open and curious a little longer
  4. When asked what you think, try saying, “I don’t know”
  5. Hold your opinions lightly so they can change when you learn more rather than just filtering evidence to support your opinion and ignoring the rest.

Watch the horns:

This principle is not encouraging you to be insipid or indecisive. It is asking that you keep an open mind until you need to make decisions. Also note that if you’re quite opinionated, it’s not enough to hide it – you’ll have to work on actually opening your mind.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From auto-opinions to staying open

I will listen fully to something without having a single opinion about it.

Don’t express opinion as fact EXPRESS OPINION AS OPINION

DO WHAT:

Express opinion as opinion, perception as perception. Use “I” statements to speak for yourself. Ask, “Do we know that or just think that?”

WHEN:

When you need to separate data, information, knowledge, assumptions, opinions, feelings and beliefs. When there’s heat in the conversation or the stakes are high. When you need to show respect for varying points of view.

WHY:

Expressing opinion as fact can unduly influence a conversation, can turn beliefs into reality and can inhibit understanding of the problem or situation.

You know you've got the OPINION AS FACT bull when:

  • You’re quick to state your opinions, slow to ask for others
  • Other people think you’re opinionated but you think you’re knowledgeable
  • You say things like “The reality is”, “The fact of the matter” and “At the end of the day” to make your opinions sound like universal truths
  • You tend towards “either / or” thinking which says everything must be this or that, one or the other, absolute, black and white

You know you're shifting to EXPRESSING OPINIONS AS OPINIONS when:

  • You prefer to ask questions before expressing opinions
  • You become more interested in other people’s views
  • You use more “I” statements (“In my opinion”, “I feel”, “In my experience”)
  • You catch assumptions like “She wasn’t on site” and change them to “If she was there, I didn’t see her”
  • When you give your account of an event, you don’t say “This is what happened”, you say, “Here’s my recollection of it”

How to shift this bull:

  1. Accept that opinions are not “facts” and they vary
  2. Ask others what they think
  3. Express your opinions as opinions by using “I” statements

Watch the horns:

The more passionate you feel about the subject, the less likely you are to distinguish between facts and opinions. It’s a common persuasive technique to just say it like you’re right. Try to remember in those situations to be honest and make distinctions between opinions and facts. Speak your truth but don’t assume you speak for everyone else. Ask, “Do we know that or just think that?” Remember our “truth” is not “The Truth”, it’s just our limited perception of life from our unique perspective.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From expressing opinions as fact to expressing opinions as opinions

I will listen fully to something without having a single opinion about it.

Don’t Express Opinion as Fact - USE I STATEMENTS

Don’t get too emotionally invested DETACH AND REFLECT

DO WHAT:

Detach, dis-identify and reflect – ask questions of yourself or others. WHEN: When you need to get some perspective. When you are too attached, obsessed or possessive to make an objective assessment.

WHY:

If you’re heavily invested in believing something, you’ve lost the ability to tell if it’s true or not.

You know you've got the EXCESSIVE EMOTIONAL INVESTMENT bull when:

  • You only discuss the thing with people who will support it
  • You react to questions with defensiveness
  • It is costing your health or happiness
  • People who do not affirm your position are dismissed
  • You do not challenge the idea objectively or look for flaws
  • You are prioritising your ego over the group and even over your Greater Self
  • You are negatively energised – anxious, gloomy, bitter, conniving, paranoid, combative, vengeful or controlling – and that is actually fuelling you
  • You become secretive, manipulative, dis-honest or nasty to get things done

You know you're shifting to DETACH AND REFLECT when:

  • You are prepared to thrash the idea out with anyone who can improve it, regardless of their position, status, experience or relationship to you
  • You respond to questions and challenges with some answers and with more questions and curiosity of your own
  • You want others to share your excitement and contribute
  • You have plenty of passion but still question and challenge the idea
  • You are positively energised – even when you get fired up or frustrated, the essence of the energy is positive and focused on the greater good
  • You are conscious, mature, open and respectful in getting it done

How to shift this bull:

  1. Choose a belief, opinion, project or position
  2. Identify and own your investment in it
  3. Detach and dis-identify - mentally remove your investment
  4. Review the belief, opinion, project or position – what do you think now?
  5. Where possible, get someone else to help you detach and reflect

Watch the horns:

This is not easy to do and it won’t work unless you do it properly. The aim is to understand your deeper motives. Keep diving. It should feel like work. As Ann Lamott said, “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks in it.”

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From excessive emotional investments to "detach and reflect"

I will notice an attachment that is causing problems and I will loosen my grip.

Don’t get too emotionally invested DETACH AND REFLECT

Don’t gossip BE RESPECTFUL

DO WHAT:

Be respectful.

WHEN:

When you hear people engaging in gossip about colleagues or other departments, teams or organisations. When you hear rumours about changes in the workplace.

WHY:

Gossip can be toxic and can have a range of negative impacts.

You know you've got the GOSSIPING bull when:

  • Your ego gets a pay-off from talking about people when they’re not there
  • You say things about people you’d never say to them
  • Gossiping becomes a feature of your bond with certain people
  • When you hear a rumour about changes in the workplace, you pass it on without contemplating the potential impacts
  • You’re contributing to the uncertainty, anxiety or confusion by passing on rumours or failing to check their veracity

You know you're shifting to BEING RESPECTFUL when:

  • You stop saying things about people that you wouldn’t say if they were present
  • You build your bonds on respectful communication rather than gossip
  • You challenge people when they speak disrespectfully about others
  • When you hear a rumour about changes in the workplace, you go looking for information and encourage the sharing of it to reduce anxiety and concern
  • You vent frustration without slandering others

How to shift this bull:

  1. Notice the gossip when it arises
  2. If it is personal, either ask if this is respectful to the absent parties or remove yourself from the conversation
  3. If it is about changes in the workplace, get information and share it
  4. Accept that doing the above may lead to you being a subject of gossip

Watch the horns:

Gossip can be exciting. The ego can derive pleasure from hearing it. Maybe gossiping about someone  makes you superior to them for a moment or gives you a vicarious thrill. So you could ask yourself, “Why do I want to talk about this? What is my motivation here?” If your motivation is selfish, mean, judgmental or superior, you could ask yourself if you really want to behave that way today. If you need to vent frustration about someone, ask yourself if you can do so without slandering them. It’s up to you.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From gossip to being respectful

I will only talk about people as I would if they could hear me.

Don’t gossip BE RESPECTFUL

Don’t pretend BE AUTHENTIC

DO WHAT:

Be authentic, be yourself to the best understanding of what that means.

WHEN:

As much as you can.

WHY:

Pretending costs you more than it gains.

You know you've got the PRETENDING bull when:

  • It’s a struggle to maintain the façade
  • You compromise yourself too much to belong
  • You lose touch with how you feel and what you think
  • Your strengths, talents and qualities are weakened
  • Bad things are allowed to happen to or around you without being challenged
  • You’re hailing the Emperor’s New Clothes while squinting at naked flesh

You know you're shifting to BEING MORE AUTHENTIC when:

  • You feel more like yourself – as much as you can understand that to be
  • It takes less effort to be present You don’t have to push, assert, flaunt or throw it – you can just be it
  • You develop your strengths, talents and qualities
  • Better things happen to and around you as a natural expression of being more aligned within yourself
  • You’re respectfully asking if the Emperor can feel the breeze

How to shift this bull:

  1. Notice that you’re pretending
  2. Ask yourself what you’d be feeling, saying or doing if you were truer to yourself
  3. Try doing some of that
  4. Build confidence and strength to be yourself more often

Watch the horns:

Being yourself means being your deepest, truest self, not just a new creation of your ego-self. Some people go through a “mid-life crisis”, breakdown or depression and discover a deeper self, different to the false self they’d been taking out to the world every day. Others “go on a journey of self-discovery” only to create a new identity – a new ego-self – that is even more vividly painted than the last. The more effort they put into creating ego-self 2.0, the more defensively they maintain it. Just watch yourself that you’re looking for your authentic self – your essence – rather than just replacing your old pretence with an even bigger one.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From pretending to being authentic

I will watch and listen for my essence and build the courage to be myself.

Don’t use sarcasm SAY IT STRAIGHT or DON'T SAY IT

DO WHAT:

If it needs to be said, say it. If you’re using sarcasm as a weapon or shield, drop it.

WHEN:

When sarcasm is anything other than genuinely good-natured banter.

WHY:

Sarcasm can sometimes work as a casual, back-handed way to deliver a message but if that message has not landed, repeating the sarcastic approach is unlikely to improve the situation or build respect.

You know you've got the SARCASTIC bull when:

  • Your jokes have (barely) hidden motives
  • The jokes have worn thin
  • The sarcastic approach has failed to get a positive result
  • What you are trying to say through sarcasm or sub-text really does need to be said and not landing the message is costing you or others dearly
  • What you are saying through sarcasm does not need to be said – they’re just your judgments, issues and insecurities being thrown at others
  • It’s a habit – you do it without even thinking

You know you're shifting to SAYING IT STRAIGHT (OR NOT SAYING IT) when:

  • Your humour is genuinely for fun and that’s how others experience it
  • You’re saying what you need to say and landing the message
  • You’re no longer throwing your stuff at others
  • No one has to wonder if your jokes are loaded because if
    you want to say something, you say it Issues are addressed more quickly and effectively

How to shift this bull:

  1. Catch the sarcastic remark you’re about to make
  2. Imagine saying what you want to say with no sub-text
  3. Ask yourself, “Does this need to be said? Now? By me?”
  4. If so, try being direct and respectful
  5. If it’s your stuff, own it – stop chucking it at others

Watch the horns:

Sarcasm can be fun but it can also be a weapon, a shield or a disguise. There are times when the sarcasm has become too much but a person who is suffering doesn’t want to say so – they don’t want to be told they “can’t take a joke.” Check your motivation and balance the jokes with positive straight-talking.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From sarcasm to straight talk

If it matters, I’ll be direct. If it’s my stuff, I’ll take it to therapy. If in doubt, I’ll leave it out.

Don't use sarcasm SAY IT STRAIGHT or DON’T SAY IT

Don't mutter SPEAK UP

DO WHAT:

Speak up.

WHEN:

When not doing so will have negative impacts for yourself or others.

WHY:

Bad things happen when good people don’t speak up. You limit your own ability to learn or contribute. Collaboration requires open, honest conversation.

You know you've got the MUTTERING bull when:

  • You’re having conversations in your head that you should really be having in person
  • You burn energy suppressing your thoughts and feelings
  • Your ideas or experience are not shared or heard
  • People underestimate your ability, feelings or concerns
  • People overestimate your comprehension, willingness or support
  • You rant outside, then say nothing in the meeting
  • You feel powerless
  • You have so much invested in being the “perpetual victim” that you’ve stopped even considering what would happen if you spoke up

You know you're shifting to SPEAKING UP when:

  • You have the conversations out loud that used to stay in your head
  • You use your energy to express yourself more often
  • Your ideas and experience are shared (even if they’re not always heard)
  • People better understand where you’re at
  • More of what you say outside the meeting you now say inside
  • You feel a bit more powerful and encourage others to speak up

How to shift this bull:

  1. Notice the conversations you have in your head and the ones you have on the side
  2. Ask yourself why you’re reluctant to speak up – what are you afraid of or concerned about?
  3. Ask yourself what it’s costing you or others when you don’t speak up
  4. Find a way to speak up – with respect, openness and curiosity

Watch the horns:

Speaking up doesn’t mean to be rude or aggressive. In most cases, speaking up is more effective if you apply the other principles in this book: be genuinely curious, take responsibility, express your opinions as opinions and don’t be sarcastic. Practicing this principle does not mean that you walk around talking with no filter. It means raising the things that matter most as soon as possible.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From muttering to speaking up

I will be courageous and speak up about one thing.

Don't mutter, SPEAK UP

Don't be vague GET CLEAR

DO WHAT:

Clarify what’s in doubt. Verify understanding and alignment.

WHEN:

Whenever you sense vagueness within a conversation; either through words, body language or a misalignment of expectations.

WHY:

Vagueness costs time, money, resources, relationships and energy - both physical and emotional. Getting clear saves time, money and resources. It strengthens relationships and increases energy.

You know you've got the VAGUE bull when:

  • You get angry at people (or they get angry at you) for not fulfilling expectations that were never clear in the first place
  • You have incidents because people do not follow guidance that wasn’t clarified or verified
  • You waste resources doing unnecessary or ineffective work
  • You miss opportunities
  • You waste energy worrying or wondering when you could check and be sure

You know you're shifting to GETTING CLEAR when:

  • You increase harmony between people by getting clear up front
  • You increase safety and performance by verifying the guidance is understood and will be used
  • You spend more energy on what matters
  • Increased harmony, increased safety and performance, better use of energy.

How to shift this bull:

  1. See the mud
  2. Name the mud
  3. Ask and clarify
  4. Work out what kind of conversation you need
  5. Use the right tools for the job

Watch the horns:

Words are not enough to ensure you have clarity. A person may say "I understand", "Got it" or "Yep" but the tone of voice or body language may say something different. When you are getting clear, look and listen for SUB-TEXT that says something different to the TEXT. And if in doubt, check it out.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: From vagueness to clarity

I will notice any time there is vagueness and then ask and verify until we have clarity.

Don't compete COLLABORATE

DO WHAT:

Work with people rather than against them.

WHEN:

When you’re competing against people you should or could be working with.

WHY:

When you compete against people, you usually don’t listen as effectively, don’t empathise and don’t share completely honestly.

YOU KNOW YOU'VE GOT THE COMPETING BULL WHEN:

  • You’re constantly one-upping each other
  • You’re in a “me vs. you” or “us vs. them” mentality
  • You’re in a black and white, either/or, “has to be this or that” mentality rather than looking for a third or fourth possibility
  • You’re trying to succeed against or over rather than with
  • You’re with-holding information, ideas, energy or support
  • You’re overly focused on yourself
  • You are spinning the truth or dressing things up
  • You don’t raise anything that weakens your position or benefits theirs

YOU KNOW YOU'RE SHIFTING TO COLLABORATING WHEN:

  • You stop scoring and start listening and thinking together
  • You move from “us vs. them” to “What do we have in common?”
  • You move from “either/or” to “Could multiple things be true here?” and “Is there another way of looking at this?”
  • You’re trying to succeed with and involve others
  • You’re openly sharing information, ideas, energy and support
  • You’re focused on a wide range of stakeholders and the greater good
  • You are critical of all ideas and question all information equally
  • You raise anything that improves everyone’s understanding of the problem and the ability to work on it

HOW TO SHIFT THIS BULL:

  1. Notice that you’re competing
  2. Ask yourself if this person is really an external competitor – e.g. in sport or, if you believe in competitive business, then in business
  3. If they’re not, stop competing instantly
  4. Ask questions and listen
  5. Look for commonality – shared goals, vision, values
  6. Try to work with all parties for shared gain and long-term solutions

WATCH THE HORNS:

Humans are animals. Some of us can fly planes or order food online or make a soufflé but we’re still animals and sometimes our animalistic, scarcity-driven instincts will kick in. Watch your own and try not to get sucked in by those of others. Try to persist with your determination to collaborate. Humans have egos, too. Egos are inherently insecure and reactive. Find security and self-esteem on a higher plain and you’ll not so easily get sucked into fighting other peoples’. Breathe deep, smile, persist – collaborate.

TODAY'S PRACTICE: FROM competing to collaborating

When I would normally compete, I will instead collaborate generously with little concern for my individual gain.