beauty strengths

Beauty in the business world – where do you see it?

This is a from the heart blog by Kieron Murphy about his realisation about how beauty turns him on, and how he sees beauty in the business world. It’s made me (Kay Buckby) think flipping how we view the psychology of strengths. What if we consider our strengths as things we do that help us to feel stronger (strengthened)? Our strengths are the things we do that leave us feeling energised. It’s the opposite view of the usual view of strengths, but the things that leave us feeling energised and stronger when we are finished are the ones that will fill us up. Just because we are good at something doesn’t mean it is a strength. I am not dismissing the psychology of strengths, (see earlier blog post by Karen Chamberlain which is excellent), I am proposing a different view. Inspired by Kieron.

Kieron takes it up from here…

At the most recent Trainers Network Northamptonshire event – the Unconference in Ketttering – one of my fellow-delegates asked me what was the thing that turned me on the most. (I’m not sure if they were his exact words – that could be my interpretation).  Without a moment’s hesitation, I said ‘Beauty’.  By that word, I didn’t mean good-looking women.  I meant beauty in art, painting, sculpture, writing, music, buildings, railway engineering, bridges … for me, the list is virtually endless.

On reflection, perhaps I should have made it clear that I meant beauty made by humans, as opposed to the beauty and majesty of nature.  I’ll always choose a city break over any other type of holiday.

My peer then asked me how I found fulfilment the world of business.  I said I find the most beauty in the communication between humans: customers and customer service people, or between managers and their team or team members.  When it works, it’s a beautiful experience.  When it fails, it can be ugly.

I’ve been ruminating on this conversation for the past few weeks since the event, and I’ve come to realise that my whole working life has been (albeit unconsciously) a quest to find – and create – this beauty.

My first job was as a photographer.  I still have some of my photographs hanging in my house.  I think they’re beautiful, and I’m proud of them.  And yes, some of them are of good-looking women, I have to admit, whose beauty was a gift from mother nature.  What I’m proud of is that I took them, and they’re good pictures.

For the past 30+ years, I’ve been working in the contact centre business, whose life-blood is the communication between customers and advisors.  Whilst many of the calls I hear make me lose the will to live, the good ones are absolute gems.  If I’m in a client organisation as an interim manager, I sometimes have to take escalated complaints.  On one project for a Top 100 company, the escalation point above me was The Chairman.  This company had messed up badly on a payment mechanism for all their on-line merchants, so we had thousands of very upset customers whose livelihood was at stake.  The calls the agents couldn’t handle got escalated to the Team Leaders, and if the Team Leaders’ couldn’t handle the call, then guess who did… and I’m proud to say that nobody wanted to escalate beyond me.

This probably sounds like I’m blowing my own trumpet, and yes, I am.  However, I was only able to succeed with those very difficult calls because I had been very well-trained when I had been ‘on the phones’.  I started in this industry with a company called Programmes Limited, which became Merchants Limited, then Dimension Data (still thriving) and is now part of NTT, the Japanese equivalent of BT.  They put a huge emphasis on communication skills training, with a particular focus on Directing the Conversation, and Dealing with Complaints.  They used a model called Inform – Invite – Listen – Acknowledge, which many of you will probably know.  Even though I learned this material more than 30 years ago, I still find it the single most powerful and useful piece of information I’ve ever been given.  It never fails.  And the conversations are quite beautiful.

I’ve had delegates come up to me days, even months after a training, saying things like “That thing you taught us has transformed my relationships with my parents – and my girlfriend”.  “What about angry customers?”  I sometimes ask.  “How are you getting on with them?”  Several of them have said: “The weird thing is, I haven’t had any angry customers since your training”.

Now that is a beautiful thing, and beauty is what turns me on.  Sometimes in day-to-day business I can feel like a fish out of water.  When I remind myself that my response to beauty is an essential element of my character, and is a strength rather than an eccentricity, everything comes into focus.  It helps me to infuse meaning into my work, and hopefully transmits to the people I’m lucky enough to be working with.

Kieron Murphy is a trainer who specialises in developing contact centre staff to have meaningful conversations with their clients, peers and colleagues.

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