It’s great to bring you another listener question. These kinds of podcasts are designed to help you bridge the gap between hearing and knowing something, and putting it into practice in real life. I can tell you all the stories under the sun, but there is something special, and simply enlightening about a specific person with a specific goal and you hearing it in the first-person.
Hey, it’s Andrew, and this is Safety on Tap.
Since you’re listening in, you must be a leader wanting to grow yourself and drastically improve health and safety along the way. Welcome to you, you’re in the right place. If this is your first time listening in, thanks for joining us and well done for trying something different to improve! And of course, welcome back to all of you wonderful regular listeners.
The thing is, that lots of my work involve helping people grow, to improve their performance. Much of this happens in facilitated group sessions or 1:1 coaching. And almost all of it is off-limits to regular listeners because they are private, confidential, personalised experiences.
And yet it strikes me, time and time again, how big an epiphany can occur not merely when you know something in a logical fashion, but when you can experience it. If we work together, you get to do this, directly and deeply. But if we don’t, you can still get close to that understanding and insight vicariously – that is, through someone else.
And that is what these listener question episodes are all about. No editing, no scripting, just real dialogue. You might take some direct lessons from this. You might glean some more subtle insight. Let’s find out.
This one is special because the listener has very generously permitted me to use his name, for you to come to know this real human being.
This is from Clinton Horn, writing to me in response to episode 90, How to prepare for a conference presentation:
I hope all is going well mate.
I have been following your work for quite some time now and it is true to say that we share very similar philosophies around safety and leadership. However, in my humble opinion, what distinguishes us is your ability to both tell and carry a story to get your message across and your almost effortless self-awareness to “be in the moment” when either facilitating or participating within panel discussions. Your degree of self-awareness and confidence is inspiring – no joke.
I can see how developing a focussed self-awareness not only translates into confidence in those big public speaking situations, but also translates into being a much better communicator in everyday situations. As a progressive (even disruptive) safety practitioner, I see this as being an essential attribute.
How can I develop this degree of self-awareness? Is it a case of practice makes perfect?
I am both a safety practitioner and an academic (part-time PhD student) but I have always struggled with the confidence to step up and perform at those big events to the point that the fear clouds my clarity of mind which can often sabotage the flow of my presentation or giving garbled answers/responses during panel discussions (I have only ever been in one panel discussion). In fact, I find that I react the exact same even if I am ask to record a vlog etc. It just seems as though that no matter how acutely aware I am of my current Achilles heel, I have not as yet found a way of overcoming it.
Interestingly, although I have a slight stammer that I am comfortable with (more of an internalised stammer) and have learned to manage over the years (it doesn’t hold me back at all), it is actually not the thing that I fear when participating in public speaking events, yet it is the one thing that can become affected because of my lack of self-awareness and confidence in such situations. I have given some speeches where it has felt great and I could tell that I really connected with the audience, but that seems to happen almost by chance rather than by design because I have not yet found a reliable way of connecting with my in-the-moment self-awareness. I am sure that the better I become at this skill then it will have a direct positive effect on not only being able to carry a story to get my message across, but also have a corresponding positive effect on the mechanical element of my speech that will compliment the cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) that I have been using successfully to manage my stammer over the years.
My PhD research is exploring the “mystery” of how frontline construction workers adapt to complexity and variability in such a highly adaptive and decentralised reality that is the construction project environment and has been inspired by my practitioner work over the past 17yrs where I have witnessed and heard their (construction workers) stories of how this “mystery” manifests each and every day, yet, almost never gets recognised and even less explored. That isn’t to say that their adaptations are always resilient, but because the traditional safety lens is more focussed on what goes wrong, these capacities almost never get explored to better understand them. Needless to say, my research is grounded in the resilience engineering principles and concepts, but I will be exploring these capacities by drawing on allied psychological disciplines.
Given all of the above, i’m sure you can see the paradox between me having a developing story to tell (I am only in the first year of my 6yr part-time PhD), yet feeling almost crippled in telling my story.
Thanks in advance
Here is my reply:
It’s always a good day when I hear from listeners – you’ve made my day! Thanks for the feedback.
Re self-awareness. I’m sure you can read back over your email and see just a little irony, in how articulate and clear you are on your own situation, background and challenges. So this self-awareness thing isn’t a mystical trait others have, you have it too (otherwise how would I be able to understand your email?!)
You’ve tied self-awareness and confidence together somewhat, which might be a tenuous link. You can be self-aware and lack confidence, you can also be uber-confident without self-awareness.
So if the first question is how to develop self0awareness, then I can offer two insights from my own experience. First, reflection as a structured practice is superb, it truly is a muscle which develops over time. Episodes #3 and #23 are both with Tim Allred, who is part way through a PhD program centred on safety improvement using work-based learning. He is a guru of reflective practice, I am merely a disciple.
The second thing, is to go beyond yourself. Reflective practice can be great, but staying inside your own head can likewise fester imposter syndrome. So to get balanced inputs, get external feedback. I did a video on this called ‘How to ask for feedback on your performance’. When you get feedback, you have points of reference against your own perspective. You will find gaps, in both directions (you think good, others think not / you think rubbish, others think good)
So self-awareness will improve with reflection, and getting feedback. But I don’t think that’s the challenge for you, where confidence probably is.
Confidence grows when you try something, anything. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it is guaranteed to make progress. I’m often saying to people, when trying something new “this cannot fail”. What I mean by that, is even if we don’t achieve the intended outcome, we will get feedback and experience in the process to help us improve.
So, you can engineer situations when you can, and must practice.
Ask to present at meetings, professional development events, and vlogs….absolutely these are great ways to practice. The latter have the benefit of being recorded so you can do a post-match review yourself! Have a listen to the early episodes of my podcast. I didn’t wait until I was at some arbitrary level, I got started and made progress ever since. I have stuffed many things up since, and continue to tweak and improve.
I speak on international stages now because I said yes to every single opportunity I had to practice speaking. Funnily enough I am far more comfortable and I think probably have more mastery in dialogue, discussion etc, things which are unplanned but unfold. I lean into these opportunities. But I do so because I am crystal clear about how they fit with my life mission and how they help move that forward.
I understand feeling crippled. But you aren’t. You have an amazing mind, opportunity to study and research and learn. You have a voice which maybe not perfect is more than adequate to communicate to those who hear.
You have the blessings many people take for granted and a minority would kill for.
Start by being shite. Entertain that as a goal, and you’ll probably prove to yourself that you are a couple of notches above shite. But get started. Reflect. Get feedback. And you will improve if you want to, I guarantee it.
One way you can bring together a few different mediums is maybe to relfect through journalling. Write it down. That gives you material. Set yourself a goal to synthesise your thoughts maybe once a week. Condense one clear insight from it. Turn that into a piece of content. If public speaking is your goal, simply record these on video. You don’t even have to share them (but the feedback would be helpful, even from a few close friends – I’d be in on that).
I interviewed a guy called Ben on the podcast not because he was an expert on the topic we talked about, but because he was doing his PhD and was progressively sharing snippets from his lit review in regular Linkedin posts. What grabbed my attention was his generosity, and how we brought rather academic and difficult to access material to his network, which was digestible for them and clarifying for him. Everyone wins!
I think there are a few ideas in there for you. Keen to hear your thoughts, but more keen to hear what action you take.
PS. You used the word effortless to describe me and my speaking. I’m sure you realise how you were projecting a ‘grass is greener’ perspective there, right? I’m sitting here on a Sunday afternoon preparing for my next conference presentation. I’ve spent dozens of hours preparing for talks which were 30 minutes long. Usain Bolt’s 9.something second sprint isn’t effortless when you see all the work which happens before the starters pistol goes off. I don’ want you to have any misgivings about my capability – practice has delivered me progress. It ain’t effortless for me, or you 🙂
This is what I received back from Clinton:
Wow, there is so much wisdom and practical utility in your responses – much appreciated.
In fact, more than even you probably realise. Your point around accepting every speaking invitation/opportunity resonates strongly because, truth be told, I have often shied away from such opportunities. This naturally leads to regret and serves only to exacerbate my lack of confidence.
Action 1 – start saying yes to speaking invitations and even offer to speak at events if I feel I have something meaningful to contribute.
Also, I can see how vlogging can be an effective reflective medium that, in turn, can then support building more confidence. Camera’s can sometimes feel disconcerting, but that has probably got more to do with my current lack of confidence than the camera itself. Again, a valuable opportunity to slay more than one demon.
Action 2 – start recording my own vlogs. Some just for myself, but some for sharing with my peers, work colleagues etc
Thanks again Andrew. I will no doubt be revisiting your words of wisdom many more times over the coming days, weeks and months whilst I continue to follow, with keen interest, the great work you are doing. You clearly have connected with your purpose and, even more so, are living in your purpose. That is the sweet spot that so few actually ever get to experience. Awesome!
I’m curious….what’s jumped out at you from that exchange?
I love Clinton’s openness, and humility. I love his articulate self-reflection. And I love his clarity and commitment to action!
If you want to share your thoughts or insights on this episode, head over to safetyontap.com/ep136 and leave a comment! If you are digging these listener-experience episodes, check out episode 121 about tackling toxic behaviours, episode 107, a coaching call with the wonderful Carmen or episode 104 with Steffan, helping him navigate through challenges to do with data and metrics.
If you get a sense of what clarity and progress can be achieved in a simple email exchange like this, imagine what happens when you can engage more directly, contextually, and personally with me. Whether you are a solo safety person or the head of safety, if you want to find out how we might accelerate your growth and performance this year, send me an email to email@example.com with the subject line ‘ACCELERATE’ and we’ll see what is possible.
Thanks so much for listening. Until next time, what’s the one thing you’ll do to take positive, effective or rewarding action, to grow yourself, and drastically improve health and safety along the way? Seeya!
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