Audrey Tang is a Chartered Psychologist (CPsychol) with the British Psychological Society, working as a training consultant, FIRO-B coach and writer. Her book "Be a Great Manager Now" was published by Pearson in May 2016. She is an accredited speaker - presenting at National and International conferences, a resident guest expert (Positive Psychology) on The Chrissy B Show (Sky 203), and the host of a local radio show in the UK "LifestyleMK" on Secklow Sounds. We have conducted an interview with her.
Why makes “positive psychology” special?
Positive psychology focuses on what is right and how to make that even better, rather than what is wrong and bringing us to the “norm”. For example, if a child is being bullied, rather than focus solely on making amends, channel the child’s energies into a new hobby (or similar) – they will associate with a new group of friends and this will build their self confidence…in turn, this makes it easier to deal with the root. Many people think that “positive thinking” is enough. There are many “motivational quotes” or “positive affirmations”. These are all great as they prime your focus, but you also need to appreciate the positivity of the reality. While I might say – “…as soon as I lose a few pounds I’ll be happy with the way I look.” (ie. focus on the positive goal) – it is important to also say “…I have a nice smile, and my dimples are cute.” (appreciation of what I have now). This already lifts our self esteem, and makes our goals easier to achieve because we are doing them for ourselves – because we love ourselves.
This sort of thinking is important for emotional wellbeing, and learning to appreciate the “real us” is the foundation of my workshops.
How important is emotional support in particular to managers and in turn, employees?
Research has shown that people leave a manager rather than leave their job. However, managers generally don’t get up wanting to be horrible bosses. They are often under a lot of pressure, and in turn may be “sharing” that load. However, if vicious cycles work this way, so too can virtuous ones. If a manager is able to discuss their problems, or get support from contemporaries, or a development coach//mentor, or their own manager – in turn they can pass the same support onto their team.
For managers who already offer such support, the danger is they can burn out. If you think about a supportive manager like a sponge containing all the water that is their team’s anxiety, there will come a point where if they don’t have a “squeeze” (read “hug”) they cannot function in their job any more.
Creating a virtuous cycle of positive emotion is especially important when it comes to customer-facing, and service professions as there the team must contain the anxieties of those they are “serving”.
A last point on this is that we should also be mindful that many people see service professions in a more “master/servant” relationship – you are there to serve me. This can result in customers being quite rude to service professionals. It is important for the service professional to realise that they are often in a “professional-client” relationship – they have the skill to provide the service the customer wants. Focusing on the fact they have a skill can also make staff value themselves more.
Which are the 3 top 'Soft Skills' that people must acquire today?
Historically “soft skills” have referred to “presentation skills” or “networking skills” – skills of communication. I believe it goes a bit deeper than that. I think people must acquire the following abilities:
1. Reliability. People can be ambitious, or talented, but to work well in any environment they need to be reliable. If you can be counted on then you will more often be counted in. There will otherwise come a time when a sparkling personality will not be enough to merit inclusion if there has been too much flakiness.
2. Striving for excellence rather than perfection. I read this one in Forbes – and love this point. If you can barely be “perfect” to your standards, the likelihood of being “perfect” to anyone else’s is far less. Also “perfection” looks only at the outcome. Striving for excellence focuses on the whole process. Being reliable, being conscientious, and doing a good job at the end.
3. Courage. This can be to start something new, to leave something old, to do something different, or to act in the way you believe in. Too often we bind ourselves by what others may think. If we are unhappy we need to take the time to think about why, what the options are, and who or what is in the way. More often than not, the answer is we are the barrier. We are the saboteur. …if we can find the courage to break through, we will find a way to deal with the outcome.
Why are they more important than ever before?
The world is changing – in some ways for the better, but there are difficulties. One thing that many people have to appreciate now is that there are few “jobs for life”. This also means that there may be fewer “set friendships” or communities. If an average project lasts around 2 years, people – families – can be moving around a lot and we need to be able to make new friends, fit into new places. These skills are important in a social context.
As humans we cannot help but affect one another – when we are let out in traffic we are more likely to let someone else out. As such skills that mean we are a good person to have around and be around are likely to attract the same.
We will always need people – admittedly some may need more than others – but we do need some form of living contact. By always bringing some value to the table, we are more likely to share in the fruits of a very abundant meal – and be better for it.
What is your top tip for new managers?
The principals of positive psychology, taking positive action and forming good – and valued - relationships underpin my book “Be A Great Manager Now”. While my book will help all new managers practically, it also encourages them to realise that while there are positive ways to behave, it is not about “fitting into the role” – it is about “fitting the role to you”. Yes we may need to motivate; we may need to appraise; we may need to make high level decisions – but these are all things that we can do. Take away the “business speak” and be yourself – just yourself in a business role! One example I give in my classes is to ask what people think of “Networking”. Often people dislike it seeing it as “something I have to do” or “selling yourself”. The reality is “networking” is being someone of influence. If you are the person that people go to, to ask for help; or if you are the one who is called because you probably know someone who can contribute – you are already a good networker.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
We have phenomenal power within ourselves, we often just need to recognise it – and not give it away. I was giving a workshop on “change” recently and I asked who believe that even if change was unwanted “…it always works out”. One delegate said “No – I don’t – it doesn’t - I have to work really hard to make it work out.”
That’s EXACTLY the point. When change “works out” it is be because we have put the work in, we have adapted, we have sought solutions – we make it better. IT doesn’t necessarily work out – but WE do.