Don't Dodge Discomfit

In our August video blog, PDA's Sarah Vogel shares insights from conversations with clients about how putting yourself into uncomfortable situations is crucial.

If you avoid discomfit, then current problems can turn into bigger situations. Grievances and disciplinary situations that could have been prevented are allowed to develop their own momentum.

Sarah looks at how conversations and mediation can play key parts in allowing organisations to get out of a potential grievance culture. And the ability to lean into discomfit is part of individual people's and their organisation's strengths. 

The first steps in mediation.

In the first of a series of blogs on mediation, we look at the initial steps in the process.  

What if the working relationship between two people in an organisation breaks down? Mediation can be a solution, and is one of the key services that PDA offers.


An organisation may ask for help when a working relationship is in difficulty, communication is stilted or has stopped entirely.


And many organisations now use mediation as part of their grievance process.


The mediator will tell the participants about the process, and then to invite them to voluntarily participate.


David Cripps, PDA's director leading our mediation services, says:


“This is very important. Each individual’s involvement in mediation needs to be voluntary. Mediation will not work if one side is forced into the process.”


The mediator will also find out about the conflict, and before proceeding, ensure that this is a situation that can be potentially helped through mediation.


If both parties agree to take part in the mediation, they will receive a confidentiality contract, and arrangements will be made to arrange the mediation day.


Expectations and approaches around mediation are all important. Mediation is commonly described in terms of conflict resolution, or resolving conflict. The other way of describing mediation is talk in terms of conflict engagement.


That’s the way it has been described by Professor Bernard Mayer, who practises, studies and writes about mediation.


David Cripps says: “I think Bernard Mayer’s ideas that mediation should be about engaging with the conflict are very important.”


If you only talk in terms of getting a resolution you might solely focus on achieving an outcome without properly addressing the underlying conflict: seeing what is about, what is driving it. This might then result in just a short term resolution rather than a lasting outcome.”

"It is's ALWAYS personal!" by Sarah Vogel

Got talking

I sat next to a man on the train yesterday and inevitably (I am an extravert you knowww!) we got chatting about ‘what we did for a living’: he was an engineer by profession, a contracts manager on the railways, and was on his way to a monthly meeting with his client in South Yorks.


 "Sorry we are letting you go"

As we chatted he started to tell me about a man he had worked for many years previously: a senior manager who had a reputation (well deserved it seemed) for being an unpleasant man and one people didn’t like to work with. My new friend recounted that at one stage he had been involved in several redundancy meetings chaired by this senior manager. In these “sorry we are letting you go” meetings, as soon as the redundant person became distressed, he always said “It’s not personal!”


He said that hearing this stock response over and over again made him feel sick. He told me: “changing someone’s life like that in an instant IS personal!”


Every time he was in a meeting and heard the man say those words, it rankled and angered him until one day he decided he could work for him no longer and left for another job.


If I stopped the story there it would be a great example of people leaving managers not organisations…and also how things change gradually, then suddenly. But there was more…


Consider everything is Personal as a Manager

The man proceeded to tell me how that whole experience had changed him as a manager and changed him as a person. He told me how he knew he was a better manager nowadays, considering everything he did with his team as ‘personal’, relationship orientated, human. He was committed to always putting the people issues first.


Shooting myself in the foot a little here but I love hearing how people learn these big important things, NOT on courses but as part of their every day life experiences.


A Yes, is a Yes, is a Yes?

Tasha George thinks of the impact of the different ways we say Yes

Doing it differently

I was talking to a good friend of mine about a time recently when my usual behaviour and instinct to a choice was to say ‘no’ but a tiny yet powerful championing voice was shouting ‘Yes’ and it was so compelling that I said yes – and it turned out to be the right thing to do.


This, I said, is different to someone else I know who automatically says ‘Yes’ to everything even before it has reached their brain. They say yes and then find out what needs to happen in order to make it brilliant afterwards. It has served them well.


Nearly, nearly, nearly, Yes

This is that yes that has to make it through layers of wadding first – its in there, waiting to be given the time to be voiced but the wadding has to be taken off first. It can cause delay and I guess the risk is that someone else gets the chance before we do!



I do this. I really mean yes and yet the word no comes out. Often I regret it, sometimes I can backtrack but it does mean that I miss out – usually in my personal life and it is something that I want to pay attention to this year. Maybe taking my time before answering and extroverting my thoughts will help.


What have I missed? And what does your way gain/cost you?


By Tasha George

Recovering from setbacks

Is it one of those perpetual things that we no sooner recover from one trauma only to be presented with another? My husband recently bought a Tshirt which has "OMG Drama" on it and he pointedly said he bought it because of me. It got me thinking " do I really turn everything into a drama?". My concern is that if everything I am working on is a drama then I am continually recovering from setbacks. This is a huge energy zapper and also character building to boot and it does highlight something that may need clarifying at this point. What might seem to be a setback to me is different to what you perceive as a setback and therefore the recovering from it will be different for each of us. I think its safe to say that a setback is anything that puts us off our track, makes us stumble, fall or trip, shows us emotions that we weren't expecting. It can make a pause a little or stop us dead. Whichever it is this chapter is going to help you recover from your setbacks - I cant promise you'll never have them but when they happen, your recovery will be swifter and more elegant.  

Would it be too simple to say " get back up dust yourself down and get back on track? " Yes and there are ways to help you do that. Consider that you dont have to be 100% perfect 100% of the time, its alright to mess up. Someone once said to me that to make change things have to get messy and I think in many cases thats true. What you do have to do is commit to hanging around in the mess, working out what needs to happen next and then work on it. This allows your energies to be used by something other than the embarassment or trauma of the setback and physically moves you on. There are so many methods of commuincation now that setbacks can indeed happen quickly but they can also be recovered from quickly. Use whatever tools you have to get back on track.


So thats a practical thread to something that may have happened - an overheard conversation, an appraisal mess up, a presentation thats dried up. What about an internal set back with no third party? Where you have done yourself a disservice? Well, you could apply the above tips to yourself, be kind and cajoling, get a coaching session booked in, go for a run or run a warm bath. Whatever it takes to show yourself a bit of moving on. Remember that in order to learn from the setback you need to be able to look at it from a different angle - you can't see your dress sense in the moment only in the photographic evidence after! Likwise with ourselves it can be difficult to work out what has actually happened when we are still in it so you have to move somewhere and then have a look. Were there signs that you misread or didnt tune into? ( see Using Intuition). Were you gradually suddenly? Spend some time by all means looking at the build up and what you might do differently next time and then think about the next bit - the recovery.



How quickly you can recover depends alot on your self esteem and how much you want to recover ( some people appear content in a constant state of setback, if they are then so be it but its not for everyone). The chapter on building core strength so important and much like your health and fitness generally, if you spend time and energy on that then you will be much fitter and able to recover quickly from the inevitable setbacks that happen on the way. If your relationships are real, authentic, current and you are being honest with yourself and those around you then you will be able to deal with any setback that occurs.

Swinging from trees? Yes please with Rachel Haslam from Team Academy

I have to admit I was sceptical when I found out the PDA away day was at an outward bounds centre and would involve team building and problem solving. I was under the false impression that I wasn't going to learn anything and wasn't going to enjoy it. How wrong I was! Rachels welcome was warm and engaging and very quickly I realised that our team was going to gain a great deal from the day which was crafted perfectly between thinking sessions and activities.  

The photos on our facebook page are evidence that we did indeed cover some scary and stretching physical challenges that we got most from working as a team, but I was surprised at how much learning I got from the day - and have continued to glean after the event.


Rachel, Babs and Jim are a skilled team of facilitators and I would recommend them whole heartedly for intact team development and individual leadership work.

You can find out more about them here


‘There’s jobs out there Jim but not as we know them’ James Hick tells BBC Radio 4

There is an interesting snippet on BBC Radio 4 today from James Hick, UK managing director of ManpowerGroup Solutions. He tells us how positive the outlook is for employment and how companies of all kinds are searching for new talent in their pool. James describes this non-traditional workforce as much more part-time and self employed. It is a flexible resource that can be hired in smaller chunks. For individuals this means that we can chose our work life balance but we also need to pay attention to our own development and continually evaluate our career paths. For companies, it is even more important to have robust conversations with the staff we have, in order that we keep the best and brightest and recruit people who will improve results and work well for sometimes small snippets of time.

In James words ‘it is a puzzle’ – I would add that it is easier to solve with help!

You can hear James Hick on BBC Radio4 here

Trevor Howard’s 10 Top Tips for Leaders

Following a conversation over lunch with the inspirational Sarah Vogel whilst I was back in the UK on a recent visit, Sarah asked if I could pass on some of the lessons I have learnt over the years on managing staff. My Number 1 Rule of Management

 “You’re only as good as your team and its weakest member”

 2. Passion

This starts with you as leader, if the leader doesn’t have the passion for the job, you can be pretty sure that the team won’t either! If you don’t have the passion for the job, find a job that you do. Work is a whole lot easier when you are passionate about it. Only hire people with passion for the job, it’s easy to train staff how you want the job done but near impossible to train them to have a passion for it.

 3. Staff Come First:

Despite being a very customer service orientated industry, I believe staff come first. Sounds a bit controversial when everyone is telling you that the customer rules?  However for me, if your team is unhappy, how will they ever deliver the kind of customer service that you need to have a successful business?

4. Get Them Onboard:

Over the years I have tried many ways to manage groups and by far the most successful has been by ensuring that your team are involved in as many decision making elements of your business that you can. If they have input they are far more likely to take ownership and work to ensure that it is a success rather than just what they have been told to do. I personally cringe when I see management that still rule by fear!

5. Ownership

Probably the best piece of advice I have ever had, is to pretend the business you work in, is your business! Now I work for local government and there are so many policies to abide by, but I do my best to make sure the whole team try to act as if it was their gym. Our motto is “if you wouldn’t do it in your business, it’s not right for this one either”.

6. Goal Setting and the 1% rule

“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel”  so to encourage the team to make improvements I set them monthly challenges of improving a particular area and to see if they can make at least a 1% improvement. Invariably they achieve a lot more as they brain storm and try new ideas. You need to allow the team to make mistakes otherwise they will stop coming up with new ideas.

By doing this kind of exercise each month, they understand exactly what we are trying to achieve as it is measured and we achieve a lot more overall over the year as a result.

7. Team Strengths

Just like a sporting team, your staff will all bring different strengths to the team. We work hard to use people to their strengths and to get them to help the rest of the team who are weak in this area. Example, I have a staff member who is brilliant with computers. We get her to improve our systems and then organise training sessions with the rest of the team over a period time to bring them all up to speed. Just like a sports team, there is no point playing your team out of position every week! Also just like a team coach, some team members will need more direction or coaching whilst others just need support and encouragement. Your job is to identify this.

8. Lead by Example

I chuckle to myself when I see episodes of Undercover Boss at just how out of touch that some bosses can get. Granted I don’t run a big business but I do my best to make sure that I understand any of the issues that the team are experiencing, whether this is different shift patterns, problem customers or something as simple as cleaning the equipment. If your team know you are willing to do the task, they at least know that you experience the same problems and it’s a great way to stay in touch with your team and customers at the same time.

9. Bigger Picture

You often hear staff complaining that management are all idiots. This is often down to a lack of communication. I try to include the team in as many issues as possible as explained earlier. I also like to give each of them a chance to swap roles for a few days/hours where possible to give them a better insight and to share as much information with the team as possible. This gives them a better understanding of what we are trying to achieve. As mentioned earlier you also need to allow the team to make mistakes as part of the learning curve otherwise they will not want to challenge themselves.

10. Have Fun / Reward

Whenever you talk about rewards, the immediate thought is about monetary rewards. However this is often not possible, I find a good old fashioned Thank You can be just as effective. It’s very demoralising  for staff if all we do is find fault, so I prefer to catch them doing good things and praise them in front of everyone. I also use a selection of thank you, well done cards etc and those going beyond their role often get rewarded by being allowed to leave early or have a longer lunch break where possible. Usually by me doing their job for that period, but most importantly we try to have fun in jobs. A happy team is a productive team.


Trevor Howard is an expat Brit now working in Perth, Western Australia as a Health & Fitness Manager. He worked in the construction industry for 15yrs where he originally trained as a bricklayer before making his way into construction management. With sales and management experience also gained in the retail sector, he finally landed a dream role as Team Manager of Londons only professional Rugby League team in 1994 where he stayed for 10 years.  Following the birth of his daughter he moved to Perth where despite not knowing anyone he quickly rose through the ranks of sales once again to leading a team of over 40 staff in the Health & Fitness industry, winning the award of Best Gym in Western Australia in 2010. He often gives talks to students at Perth TAFE as well as being a member of the Fitness Australia Regional Commitee Team.

You can find out more at

We are glad it's chips - McCain Case Study

McCain Foods is using PDA’s influencing skills programme to support the work it is doing internally with the ‘It’s all good’ campaign. The campaign covers both the way McCain produces food and the way it does its business. “We want to ensure that everyone who comes into contact with McCain, both internally and externally, has an ‘It’s all good’ experience,” says Helen Hudson, head of learning and development at McCain Foods (GB).  

Like many businesses, the family-owned food manufacturer with 1650 employees in Britain has a much flatter business structure than in the past. This means that instead of looking up to hierarchies and authority for direction, employees increasingly have to take responsibilities and influence others themselves.


Helen Hudson says: “We want to get people influencing to build and maintain relationships as many people now work across the business with colleagues in other areas who they don’t have authority over. We want to give people the skills to influence without authority.”


Positive Influence

“What we want is to give people skills to be accountable and responsible for all their activities: to have positive influence,” Helen explains.


Helen says its PDA’s emphasis on positive influence that ties in with McCain’s It’s all good ethos. “The environment PDA create helps raise people’s self awareness about how they impact others. People may think that they are influencing in a polite way, but it may in fact be in a negative way. Feedback is encouraged throughout the 2 days from all participants.”


Interactive and relevant

McCain is using PDA’s two-day workshops followed up by PDA’s one-to-one coaching sessions for its staff. Attendees also take part in a 360 degree feedback programme before the programme and six months later so that they can see what results they’ve achieved.

“We’ve had really, really positive feedback,” says Helen about the experience of McCain people who have taken PDA’s influencing programme. “The workshops are very interactive and the tools that people learn can be applied immediately in work.

“Helen also adds that the positive results are seen in the way people change how they approach issues at work. “People are saying that they are doing things differently since they’ve been on the PDA workshop which is helping them get better results.”


Some feedback from the delegates

‘I wouldn’t have made the changes if it hadn’t been for the course’

'It has gone well, I have been Direct and it worked – she was fine with it'

‘I have put the idea from the last group exercise into action and things are going to change as a result’

'It's been working quicker than I thought it would'

‘The metaphor has really helped’

‘I got the most out of [this course]’

'My manager said I am getting better at speaking up in team meetings'

‘[someone who was on the course with me] heard me on the phone and said I was using making requests and it sounded good’

‘I think this coaching session has been useful’

I am amazed how much it helped, instead of it being left on the desk it was dealt with straight away

‘I do think this is the only course I have been on where I have thought yes I can do this’