Monthly Archives: December 2013


Thanks and Forgiveness

Many of my assignments throughout the year are based upon conflict in one form or another and I thought today, Christmas day, might be as good a day as any to consider where this comes from.  All over the Christian world, people are driving to family re-unions. Some, however, will stay away, feeling either uncomfortable or unwelcome or possibly simply not willing to confront memories of the past.

2016-11-17T08:24:17+00:000 Comments

Who’s to blame here human or computer?

Last Tuesday I wanted to make an urgent international, ‘on-line’, bank payment but unfortunately after trying three times, each time having to re-enter the same data, the OTP security authorization code that the bank sends through via SMS did not arrive. I  mucked around for more than half an hour trying to process one payment and then finally gave up.

Next morning I tried again but OTP code still didn’t arrive, so I phoned a very polite man in support who told me that he could not understand why it didn’t work but he would process the payment manually for me.  After literally half an hour of him trying things out and then me laboriously telling him all the details of the transfer, he said the payment was ready to go, except for one thing “someone from our security department will phone you to make a cross check to be sure you are who you say you are.”

One hour past, and then two, and finally five – nothing, no call. But then, just as I had shut down my PC and locked the back door to leave home for Brussels and my book launch event, a lady called Sally phoned me asking if I could identify myself. I told her my name then she asked my wife’s name and asked the following question “Please can you tell me the available balance on your account” I asked what she exactly meant and she said it is the amount you have on your account plus the available overdraft facility allocated to the account.  I told her that this was a business account and the balance changes hourly but that I could tell her roughly the amount that was on the account that morning and the amount due to be transferred. But Sally wanted to know the exact number. I told her that what she was asking was almost impossible and that could she please ask me a different id question, if it was absolutely necessary. But Sally decided not to help me any further and put the phone down on me, without even a ‘sorry’ or ‘goodbye’.

I wouln’t have minded so much had Sally been a computer, at least I would have understood because you don’t expect a computer to be flexible.  Being mad with a computer is not the same as being mad with a human. But Sally was a human, I am sure of it.

Humans can think and reason, humans can understand the responses of their clients, humans also know that it was Sally that phoned me on my mobile phone and that I had identified myself already by answering it with my name.

If this is really the direction that our international banks are taking us in, I have to wonder if there is any hope at all?  

As soon as you can, please banks, remove humans that only respond to what is on their screens and encourage them to think on their feet and do what humans are good at. And please, make your systems flexible so that people like Sally are able to support their customer, rather than make their life a whole lot worse!

Have a nice week,


2016-11-17T08:24:17+00:002 Comments

Emotional control

From the moment we can walk, we are taught to control our emotions.  Society likes us to act and respond in safe and predictable ways. Show too much emotion and we become ridiculed, too little and we’re considered cold and inhuman. On Wednesday I am giving a speech in Brussels on an emotional topic and I sincerely hope that I can do it while staying in control.  But how can I be sure?

The answer is ‘Emotional discipline’. The great pianist Alfred Brendel once said that the difference between an amateur and a professional pianist is emotional control. He believes that the professional knows how to balance their intellect with just the right amount of emotion; too much and it becomes sentimental and slushy, too little and it becomes dry and uninteresting.

Standing up in front of a crowd and talking on a personal topic is never easy but I have learned that it becomes easier if the speech is pre-written and well-rehearsed. But what if you are like me and prefer to improvise rather than read from a script, what then?

The beauty of improvisation is that you can connect with your audience in your own words in an honest and natural way, adapting and embellishing as the mood fits. When you do it well, the audience is not just listening, they are deeply concentrated and connected; feeding back their energy to you. In this scenario you are skating on the thin layer of ice that separates intellect from emotion and it can be very dangerous indeed. This is why going to a live concert is so much more powerful than just watching the DVD at home, you feel and believe that anything can happen.

In the work place, our emotions are expected to always be under control but sometimes I wish that we could share them a little more. I am not advocating a box of Kleenex in every room and regular group hug sessions, God forbid, but I believe that by keeping them in a tightly shut box we can never really understand just how important a person feels about a specific topic or what they are going through inside. Some say this is good but I am not always so sure.

So, as I go off to prepare for Wednesday, here’s a video that I think sums up what I am most scared of, letting the power of the moment overcome me…

Halle Berry at the Oscar’s


Have a nice week,


2016-11-17T08:24:17+00:002 Comments

Women don’t like negotiation it seems?

I heard a professor on the radio sharing her opinions as to why women are worse off than men when it comes to pay. According to the professor, it was not down to a blatant natural injustice but the fact that women do not like to negotiate in the way that most men do. To understand the subtlety of what she was saying I had to force my mind back many years to my 40th birthday party.

It was the early summer of 1997, I had organized a go-kart race and because there were so many of us we split into two groups, women and men. After the first round the men had crashed, bashed and pushed their way around the circuit, clocking up rather impressive lap times. However, the slowest of the men was still ahead of the fastest of the women. In the first round, the women had been gracefully letting each other pass, making way for the less slow ones coming through. They were dignified, united and comfortable in their collective approach, ensuring that everyone passed the finish line in safety and good spirits.

The difference between the men and women’s in lap times was so great; the organizers gave us all a pep talk. To the men they warned that if the aggressive behavior continued they would stop the race. To the women they said that unless they became much faster and more assertive, for safety reasons, they would not be able to race against the men in the final.  The coaches threats and motivational talks did very little to change behavior, and although the women were significantly faster the second time around, only one or two of them showed any signs of real competitiveness and of wanting to push their kart as fast as it could possibly go. 

So what was happening here, I wondered. My findings coincided with those of the professor that said that for the majority, women do not compete in the same way as men do. That while most men are happy to negotiate terms and conditions, the majority of women dislike negotiation so much that they tend to accept what is offered to them. And human nature being what it is, it is unusual for anyone to offer more than they think they can get away with.

This situation seems to be universal in the western world and is a real problem because women are supposed to be ‘competing’ with ‘the men’.  But as I sit an reflect this theme in a hotel room in Luxemburg I have to ask myself, do I want to live in world where women, over time, learn to adjust their behavior to that of men or do I want men to become more like women, or indeed to keep things just the way they are? What a dilemma.

The professor on the radio suggested that women needed to go on negotiation courses to learn how to win a fairer deal and indeed, I can see no harm in that at all. However, perhaps men should also be encouraged to go on humility courses, where they could learn how to deliver results without having to be so competitive? Just an idea!

Have a good week,


2016-11-17T08:24:18+00:003 Comments