The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast

69 The Power of Open Conversations: Creating Better Boards with Dr Paul Furey

June 24, 2024 Dr Nia D Thomas Episode 69
69 The Power of Open Conversations: Creating Better Boards with Dr Paul Furey
The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
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The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast
69 The Power of Open Conversations: Creating Better Boards with Dr Paul Furey
Jun 24, 2024 Episode 69
Dr Nia D Thomas

Welcome to another episode of Knowing Self, Knowing Others where we delve deep into the world of self-aware leadership.

In today's episode, our host Nia Thomas engages in a thought-provoking conversation with Dr. Paul Furey, a former army officer turned psychologist and coach.

Together, they explore the importance of creating a safe space for non-executive board members to share their perspectives, the pivotal role of active listening in building trust, and the necessity of emotional intelligence in fostering meaningful interactions.

Join us as we uncover the significance of self-awareness, empathy, and compassion in facilitating honest and open conversations in the workplace. So grab your headphones, sit back, and get ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery and leadership development.

Connect with Dr Paul Furey here

Follow Dr Paul Furey on TikTok here

Support the Show.

Find Out More
Thanks for joining me on my learning journey! Until next time...


Rate and Review
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Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to another episode of Knowing Self, Knowing Others where we delve deep into the world of self-aware leadership.

In today's episode, our host Nia Thomas engages in a thought-provoking conversation with Dr. Paul Furey, a former army officer turned psychologist and coach.

Together, they explore the importance of creating a safe space for non-executive board members to share their perspectives, the pivotal role of active listening in building trust, and the necessity of emotional intelligence in fostering meaningful interactions.

Join us as we uncover the significance of self-awareness, empathy, and compassion in facilitating honest and open conversations in the workplace. So grab your headphones, sit back, and get ready to embark on a journey of self-discovery and leadership development.

Connect with Dr Paul Furey here

Follow Dr Paul Furey on TikTok here

Support the Show.

Find Out More
Thanks for joining me on my learning journey! Until next time...


Rate and Review
Once you've taken a listen please leave a rate and review on your favourite podcast player. A little word from you means a big deal to me!

Nia Thomas [00:00:06]:
Hello, and welcome to the Knowing Self, Knowing Others podcast, where we discuss self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. I'm your host, Nia Thomas. Join me as we talk to today's guest. I'm delighted to be joined by doctor Paul Furey today. Following a first career as an army officer in

Nia Thomas [00:00:24]:
the early eighties, Paul found himself drawn into psychology by accident. And coaching had not even emerged as a discipline by that time, and it was still really on the sports field. But it was during a brief period as a training officer in the hotel industry that Paul found himself on a training course to improve his communication skills. The course turned out to be a far cry from what he or any of his colleagues in training departments the world over had ever experienced. It was a way of learning that put experimentation before theory. It didn't have a syllabus, didn't have set outcomes or any off the shelf answers for anything. And it was a really unusual breed of training that Paul took with him into his own career and into research at university as a mature student. Whilst carrying out our doctoral research into the coachability of empathy in the early 2000, Paul was constantly experimenting with various ways to get people and groups to have more straightforward, honest conversation.

Nia Thomas [00:01:24]:
And needless to say, not everything worked. But today, Paul and his team have refined that way of working alongside organizations and the teams within them, helping them to draw closer together across departments, professions, and, interpersonal boundaries in a way that really clarifies situations, relaxes unworkable conversations, and enables people to have real conversations. But away from his desk, Paul is a keen TikToker, and that's where I first came across Paul. He keeps bees, he runs, and will indulge his passion for ice swimming whenever he can find open water. Paul, it's lovely to have you here.

Paul Furey [00:02:02]:
Well, thank you very much for inviting me. I'm chuffed to be here.

Nia Thomas [00:02:05]:
Tell us a little bit more about this ice swimming.

Paul Furey [00:02:09]:
Well, the ice swimming started about I think I started doing it about 5 or 6 years ago, and I had seen people swimming in the Serpentine in London early 1 morning, and I thought, I think I'd like to give that a go. It was winter. It was December. Oh. And so the following I I I got a hold of them, and I said, can I come along and, you know, as a guest? Because it's a club. It's in fact the oldest swimming club in the United Kingdom. So it's a swimming club. And so I went on the following week, and I didn't know what I was doing.

Paul Furey [00:02:38]:
It was about half past 6 in the morning. It was pitch dark, and I thought, I guess you just get in. And so there's this digital change room, and I got up my got my swimming cozy on and my swimming hat. And I just, you know, strode down the platform into the water. And I thought this is alright, and then for about 3 seconds. And then the sheer pain set in. And it is absolutely excruciating for the first 45 seconds, and then all of a sudden, everything changes. The pain stops, and there you are swimming with the swans and the little ducks and so on.

Paul Furey [00:03:09]:
So that's how it started. It is the biggest legal rush you can get.

Nia Thomas [00:03:14]:
Wow. Oh, very interesting. And the other part, we've got to ask the question, TikTok. Tell us about TikTok.

Paul Furey [00:03:22]:
That was my daughter's fault. So, daughter Vianne, who is a a a fine artist. And, you know, like most 20 year olds is very adept, on social media. I had started off on Instagram last year because a colleague of mine said, you should go on Instagram and, you know, you can talk and etcetera, etcetera. You'll get some followers, yada yada yada. Well, I went on Instagram, and it and it was like pulling teeth. I enjoyed making them, but it was very difficult to get followers. And my daughter, Vianne, said, no.

Paul Furey [00:03:52]:
No. No. No. No. You need to go on TikTok. And I said, said, no. That's for the kids. And then she said, no.

Paul Furey [00:03:56]:
No. Really. It's changing. So then I I got a TikTok account almost immediately because I trust her, and I started making TikToks. And then I think the third one got something like 300,000, 350,000 hits within about a few days. And that was really the beginning. I sort of got the bug. And the the thing that really I find interesting as as a format is that it forces you, and indeed the viewers force you, to encapsulate big ideas in the shortest possible time.

Paul Furey [00:04:30]:
So getting a big thought crunched into normal language in, I don't know, 75 to 90 seconds is a really interesting challenge. And as you know, I I I'm always walking this in the streets of London around here while I'm doing it. So you you kind of speak differently when you're walking as we all know. And, yeah, it's it's great fun, intellectually stimulating, and it's it's very flattering to get people, commenting. Even if they're rude, I don't mind. It's great. It's a pension, isn't it?

Nia Thomas [00:05:02]:
Brilliant. Well, I really enjoy your TikToks. And listeners and watchers, we will make sure that there is a link in the show notes to Paul's TikTok. So tell us, what is a real conversation?

Paul Furey [00:05:13]:
Well, that one is it that's actually a really easy thing to define, and and we we all know when we're in one because it's effortless. But if I had to pin down a definition, it's a well, let me use a a a kind of a a simile. Most conversations that we have, particularly with people we don't know, are a bit like being in a play. We make assumptions about the other players, and then we behave accordingly. So we follow a script. And and the script is the things that we think, the words and phrases and, and our, you know, I don't know, our sort of shtick for what we think is going to be socially acceptable to the other person or the group. So that's a play. It's fake.

Paul Furey [00:05:58]:
But it works. It keeps it keeps things ticking along, and nobody gets upset because everybody knows how it's going to go. Even when it's not going well, it does it within the bounds of safety. The play is gonna finish. Everybody walks away with various levels of satisfaction. A real conversation is where the people on stage will carry on talking whilst it's going well. But as soon as it stops going well, then somebody has to be able to turn around and say, hang on a second. No.

Paul Furey [00:06:33]:
This isn't really working for me today. And so k. A real conversation is a conversation in which people read out the stage directions. They Okay. They talk about what's going on in their minds, which they wouldn't normally mention within the conventions of a normal conversation.

Nia Thomas [00:06:54]:
And my colleagues, if they're listening, they will probably recognize this. I I often talk about we talk about the stuff, but we don't talk about talking about the stuff. And I think it's that, isn't it?

Paul Furey [00:07:05]:
That's exactly it. Talking about the talk, how's this going for us? And then well, I'm jumping ahead. But if we spot somebody for whom it's not going well, then the really smart thing to do is to reach out and help them by listening.

Nia Thomas [00:07:21]:
Absolutely. Yes. And we are we're talking as a group today about listening and and that the importance of listening. And, one of our colleagues said, we are taught lots of things in school, but listening is not one of them.

Paul Furey [00:07:33]:
We're told to always listen, but we don't really understand that it's not a passive it's not a passive activity. So at school, in university, we are taught listening as a passive activity where you sit still and you don't move until you're told to. And that's not easy because then we get distracted, our minds go elsewhere. So we're not actually listening most of the time.

Nia Thomas [00:07:58]:
No. It's not that active listening that we need to be able to be a part of that conversation and really get to unearth what somebody's actually trying to say.

Paul Furey [00:08:07]:
Exactly.

Nia Thomas [00:08:09]:
But where does this interest in real conversations come from?

Paul Furey [00:08:12]:
I think because, I suppose I grew up in a in a family, very standard, middle class family, bit of sort of an expat gig, sent off to boarding school, you know, in the seventies eighties when I was growing up and then into the army. Real conversations was one of the things that you did not have. Because, actually, you you know, hiding how you really felt and and playing the game, staying within your role was rewarded by, well, just, you know, not getting into trouble, not getting into sticky situations. So so actually, being able to break out of stuff that wasn't working well became a very attractive proposition. And that was when I I met those 2 people who who I whose course I went on, which turned out to be this really weird thing somewhere between training and and and counseling, which turned out to be some, coaching later

Nia Thomas [00:09:14]:
on. Yeah. Amazing. We're obviously, in this podcast, we're interested in self awareness and self aware leadership specifically. Where does self awareness fit into real conversations?

Paul Furey [00:09:26]:
Okay. So, basically, if if you don't know you're in a play, you think it's real. But if you know that you're shooting somebody a line, if you if you can hear yourself and you think, this is what I always say, or this is what I always do, this is my get out of jail free card when I'm feeling nervous or on the spot, or, when I'm trying to make a point. So we tend to most of us are we learn along the way that certain habits work better than other ones, but they're not real. They're kind of coping strategies for getting through the conversation and creating some sort of advantage for ourselves.

Nia Thomas [00:10:10]:
That is very enlightening because that description of knowing you are in the play, that that that really is it. And and there there are various descriptors of of self awareness and the opposite, which it's really the Dunning Kruger effect, which is you you think you are most competent when you are least self aware. You know, you don't have that understanding of I don't know what I don't know.

Paul Furey [00:10:35]:
Yes.

Nia Thomas [00:10:36]:
And I think that's it. That's that. When I'm in a play, do I know that I know?

Paul Furey [00:10:41]:
Do I know that I'm in a play? Do I know that I'm trotting out the same stuff that I always trot out? And I look at it, and and and for us, there's 2 halves, and we have this this model. And for people who are, watching this, I'm going to actually draw something now. So and and then but I'll describe it as I as I'm doing it. So, what we have here is is a way of it's not a model. It's a framework. It's something that we bear in mind, and we look at self awareness in 2 halves. And I've just drawn 2 2 circles on a piece of paper, beside each other. And the circle at the top of the piece of paper has the words know it inside.

Paul Furey [00:11:20]:
So know it is the intellectual grasp of our database. This is the way I am. I know how I react when I'm, embarrassed. I know how I react when I'm feeling confident. I know how I behave when I'm feeling defensive. I know how I behave when I get angry. And so there's the intellectual grasp, that theory, that database. The second circle on the piece of paper, at about 4 o'clock of it is is see it has see it written in it.

Paul Furey [00:11:52]:
And see it is the okay. So I know the theory, but and I see it whilst it's happening. Can I do I have that external camera that says, oh, you're doing it now? You're doing it now. So with those two halves of self awareness, we're all set up for the third thing, which we haven't got to in this conversation yet, which is the say it. And I'll come back to that if if the conversation goes that way.

Nia Thomas [00:12:18]:
Very interesting. So I have a 3 layer definition of self awareness, which is reflection of your hard skills and your relational skills, recognition of your impact, and regulation of your behavior. There seems

Paul Furey [00:12:31]:
to be

Nia Thomas [00:12:32]:
a normality.

Paul Furey [00:12:33]:
Yeah. I think so. This is the regulation of the behavior. And those two first bits that you talked about, that's that's our language for it.

Nia Thomas [00:12:41]:
Yeah. Absolutely. So that's really interesting. Listeners, if you want to see that diagram in action, you can head over to YouTube, and I'll make sure that that link is in the the show notes too. So you do work with teams and you do work with the organizations. What happens in teams where there are, people who have limited self awareness that that they don't have all of those elements of those circles that you've just drawn for us?

Paul Furey [00:13:08]:
I think the the main thing is is to I'm gonna introduce a word which is is fashionable now, but in certain circles, and and that is compassion. And but what does compassion actually look like when we are in a hard nose business, you know, in the city or, you know, you went you know, we've we go to work and companies need to make money to thrive, even charities. So what does compassion look like? Well, compassion looks like when somebody is being unskillful and is ticking everybody off in the room or is getting left out isn't being antisocial, but they're just not clicking with the rest of us. Sometimes we can leave those conversations saying, gosh. She was a bit of a pain in the neck, isn't she? Or he's always hard work in meetings. Except you find the compassionate and actually the really intelligent thing to do is to say, they're not finding this easy. They're not coming into this meeting or this conversation looking to fail or to make us fail, but somehow, they're not finding this easy, so we need to do more. And that more is bouncing back to listening, is to empathize with the person and to and to help them to explain where they are in the conversation.

Paul Furey [00:14:22]:
They may be perfectly happy, but it's unlikely that they're gonna be happy without us knowing it. We know what comfortable silence looks like, and we know when somebody is silent and uncomfortable. Yeah. And we have I think we the smart approach is to help those people with the discomfort. We're not outing them, but just sympathizing with them so that they recognize that it's comfortable to talk about what's going on in their mind. They're allowed to depart from the script.

Nia Thomas [00:14:54]:
Oh, there there feels like an alignment with radical candor in there somewhere. And I can't say I've read the book. The the book is on my to do list. But there feels like my understanding of that descriptor, there is something in that?

Paul Furey [00:15:09]:
Definitely. Yes. Yes. But, you know, it's actually calling out what we see, but with some kindness. We're not looking to embarrass people. Quite the reverse. In fact, when we're having these real conversations, it's really important that people don't confuse having a real conversation with being blunt. This is not about being thuggish about it, about just blurting out whatever happens in our heart or in our minds.

Paul Furey [00:15:39]:
But this is about saying, okay. Well, this is quite tricky, and I'm not feeling quite right about this, or she's not feeling quite right about this. I'm gonna call it out in a way which is helpful. Because if I don't call it out, we're not going to be able to succeed fully in this conversation because there's too much going on emotionally. Can I do another diagram at this stage? That's okay. Okay. So here's here's what I mean by that. So what what goes on in this and this is not gonna come as a revelation to to most people who are who are listening or watching.

Paul Furey [00:16:14]:
But there's always a couple of of streams in a conversation. There's the top layer. I don't know if you can see the green territory by

Nia Thomas [00:16:21]:
the apple. Yep. We can.

Paul Furey [00:16:22]:
Top layer is the kind of the the content. It's the ideas, the words, the tangibles. Mhmm. And down here is the feelings. Yeah. Now I purposefully didn't call the things up here facts because the feelings are also facts. They are just a different kind of fact. Could actually argue that they are tougher and more intractable facts than the content.

Paul Furey [00:16:48]:
True.

Nia Thomas [00:16:49]:
Yeah. Here

Paul Furey [00:16:49]:
it is. When something seems to be going wrong up here on the top line of these two parallel lines, and I'm I'm drawing squiggles on it, to to sort of signify some sort of upset in the flow of the play where people are exchanging facts and insights. And, of course, then there's a disagreement. 2 technical people or the are gonna say, no. No. No. I don't see that at all. I don't think we should pursue that strategy.

Paul Furey [00:17:15]:
I think that's wrong headed. When something's going wrong there, it also goes wrong down here. Oh, okay. I could argue and that's the squiggles down below. I could argue that actually, the reason it's gone wrong at the top on the content is because it's already gone wrong with the feelings.

Nia Thomas [00:17:33]:
Right. Okay.

Paul Furey [00:17:34]:
So if we want to get constructively through the mess up here, we have to be prepared, and the shortcut to all this is to is to pause the content, pause the quote, unquote facts to listen or to stick up for ourselves to be assertive, so to sort out the feelings.

Nia Thomas [00:17:55]:
So when we are when we are thinking about these kind of conversations, what sort of words were are we gonna be using? What sort of phrases should we be thinking about? I'm just thinking about the they're often emotive situations. And how do you prepare if if you think that the play may go down the route that's, a little bit more difficult than you're used to? What are your standard phrases so that you've got them in your toolbox ready to use if you need them?

Paul Furey [00:18:23]:
Okay. So in in a sense, it's extremely simple, but it does take practice because for many of us, what I'm about to suggest really goes against deeply ingrained habits. It goes against ways that we've been educated about how to handle feelings.

Nia Thomas [00:18:39]:
Okay.

Paul Furey [00:18:40]:
So and there is a very simple sort of rubric for figuring out whether we should listen more to make the conversation go better or to say something to make the conversation go better. And it's a very simple thing. So optional or or scenario number 1 and number 2. So on my piece of paper here, if you can't see it, scenario 1 is that relatively speaking, and this is me, and this is you. 2 columns. In scenario 1, relatively speaking, I think I'm feeling better than you. I might not actually be happy, but I'm feeling less annoyed, less frustrated. I'm I can more still more in charge of myself.

Paul Furey [00:19:22]:
There's still more thinking than feeling going on. With that option in mind, with that scenario in mind, if I want to, if I'm feeling generous, if I am in the mood to fix this conversation, and if I see you're in difficulty, I ought to because I have a vested interest in making this conversation succeed. Then what I need to do there is to empathize.

Nia Thomas [00:19:41]:
Okay.

Paul Furey [00:19:42]:
Nia, you don't sound very happy. John, you seem puzzled. Jane, you sound really uncomfortable with the what I'm suggesting. I'm reaching out to the person, making it really easy for them to be super honest. In other words, to depart from that script and get real. So it's a little mean. You don't know they're allowed to talk about in a business meeting, so I'm gonna make it easy for them. I'm gonna talk about the feelings first, and they can say, well, actually, yeah, you're right.

Paul Furey [00:20:11]:
But but I'm not really annoyed. Well well, maybe I was a bit annoyed. Gold dust. Fantastic. That's just what we want. We want somebody to to really say, yeah, actually hang the script. Let's talk about the way it really is with us. Yep.

Paul Furey [00:20:25]:
But sometimes, in scenario 2, the boot is on the other foot. I might judge that I am coming off worse. I am being more disabled by my feelings than you are. I'm now the one who's struggling to think straight, and I'm coming out with all sorts of angry or frustrated or scripty talk Uh-huh. Which is redolent of me playing the unhappy, annoyed, frustrated, angry role. And then I think, well, look. I can't listen right now. I'm just not in the mood.

Paul Furey [00:20:56]:
I just I just don't give a damn about the other person. Yep. The only thing I'm capable of and what I need to do to repair myself is to actually talk about how I feel.

Nia Thomas [00:21:06]:
Oh, okay.

Paul Furey [00:21:07]:
So I say, look, let Nia, can I just stop you there? I'm actually starting to feel really uncomfortable. Okay. Your idea, it's what I I I I'm worried. If we go down that route, I think it's gonna be a disaster. And so I tell the biggest truth about myself that I can, which is how I feel. The truth that is stopping me from being intellectually to

Nia Thomas [00:21:33]:
somebody to somebody else and creating that environment feels like a simpler step than being the individual who says, I'm a bit worried here. Presumably, there has to be safety in that environment or somebody has already behaved in a way where they have set the environment where they've opened the floor for you.

Paul Furey [00:21:59]:
Yes. So here's here's the thing. By the time you need this stuff, if you're not feeling very brave, it's probably a bit late. No. Not a bit late. It's too late.

Nia Thomas [00:22:09]:
Okay.

Paul Furey [00:22:10]:
So if you want if if if somebody's listening to this podcast is thinking, yeah, well, I'd I'd love my team to be able to do that or my board. The the easiest way to bring that about is to actually do some contracting before you're actually in that situation. Okay. The contracting is right. Okay. So, you know, in this we're gonna we're gonna start talking about, you know, team type stuff and our tasks and, you know, blah blah blah and what's happening with sales, etcetera. But before that, I'd just like to sort of draw some some some new lines, some ways of that we can talk to each other. So, and then, basically, the person running the meeting kinda lays it out and says, look, if you're not happy with something that you hear, I invite you in the strongest terms possible to speak up.

Paul Furey [00:23:00]:
I actually am asking you to speak up. It doesn't matter if you're the newest here. It doesn't matter what. It doesn't matter if you think it'll be really unpopular. I need you. I'm requesting for you to speak up.

Nia Thomas [00:23:13]:
So the leadership in that room, in that meeting, wherever it might be, is very important in setting the tone, setting the ground rules, seeing that environment of safety.

Paul Furey [00:23:25]:
Exactly. It's it's it's all in the setup. Yeah. As always, you know, the preparation for the conversation and developing a tradition. And this needs to be said every time whilst we are training our group, our board, our team to have those special real conversations. So we say, look. As usual, everybody, and a couple of people, couple of you are new here or you're visiting, you'll find this meeting's a bit unusual because, actually, we just we we're not nasty to each other. But if we're unhappy or we have an idea or, we don't like the fact that we're being interrupted all the time or whatever, we say it.

Paul Furey [00:24:01]:
And we invite that, and we we actually celebrate it. We actually it's a point of pride. We find that our meetings go quicker and better if we tell the truth about how the conversation is going, not just about our ideas. If you see if we see anybody feeling left out or who hasn't spoken for a bit, we we tend to pay extra attention to them, because we really want to hear from people who are being quiet as well. Even if it's just to say, no. I love this. I'm just staying out of it. So that's how we're gonna do this meeting.

Paul Furey [00:24:30]:
That piece of setup then enables people to say, okay. Well, I can do it. I don't have to follow a script. I I'm not in a play. I'm in improv.

Nia Thomas [00:24:41]:
That really does take some thought and thoughtful leadership to prepare that. Very interesting. In your experience, when when you're working with teams where things have gone pretty seriously wrong and and there might be bullying or harassment or anxiety or fear, what are you finding that there are underlying causes? Are they hugely different, or are there commonalities to the conversations that people are having when they're having these real conversations?

Paul Furey [00:25:09]:
My experience of people who are overbearing and are seen as being bullies is that they lack self awareness. They don't recognize the damage they're doing, and they don't know how they don't know how much it hurts.

Nia Thomas [00:25:28]:
Ah, so recognize that. Yes. The recognition of impact

Paul Furey [00:25:32]:
on others. Yeah. Yes. So so, when we're working with people, we always start and finish at 1 to 1. So when we're going to do a piece of group work, particularly a group that's not not not really happy in its skin, we will always spend plenty of time with each person, preparing them, or finding out what they want, finding out what they're worried about, finding out, you know, how they fit into the group or how they think they do, and just hearing them out. And in between bits of group work, we refer back to the individual. What was that like? Was that what you were expecting? Did so and so do what you feared? Did you do what you were fearing you were going to do? So we're constantly working on that. Do you remember the the the see it and the know it and the see it business? We're constantly bringing people back to, did you know that? Did you see it happening? So we're getting them to tune up this external camera, this webcam on their shoulder.

Paul Furey [00:26:31]:
But I think for people and I was one of these bullies. I don't know if I was a bully, but I was certainly a pain in the neck to work with. The army was in the arm you know, being in the army in the early 80 early mid eighties, it was kind of past the course. As you became more experienced as an army officer, you realized that, actually, you already had the power. And the more gently you use that power, the more effective you became. So when you come out of Santas, you're very raw. You've got the pip on your shoulder, and you think you're god. And then your platoon sergeant, if they're any good, will show you that they're you're really not god and you actually don't know anything.

Paul Furey [00:27:11]:
And the best thing you can do is to keep your mouth shut and to turn up on time. So, you know, the the the military was a good place to learn soft power. I didn't take all the right lessons away with me, and it took me later to read to really find out how how emotional we are, how actually fragile people are, and how much of our time, even roughy toughy 40, 50, 60 year old female and male professionals, how actually, how much time and energy we waste protecting ourselves and putting on these fronts, particularly on boards. You know, the more senior, the more front is required because there's so much to lose, so much to protect. So so bullies, I know it's it's probably not, you know, they probably don't know their bullying, and they think they're doing it for the right reasons. And they're usually unhappy and worried. And they need to be fronted up to, but one to 1 and with that back to the compassion. Because bullies are typically not happy people.

Nia Thomas [00:28:19]:
Yeah. Not to think about there. You spoke about boards. Why is your work focusing on boards specifically?

Paul Furey [00:28:29]:
Because that's where the it's the biggest dog and pony show.

Nia Thomas [00:28:32]:
Oh, okay.

Paul Furey [00:28:33]:
It is it is, for the most part, so fake. And and it's not I'm not being nasty to nonexec directors and and the chairs and and cosecs. The fact is it's a it's very much a set piece because the meetings board meetings are minuted by law. So they're minuted. So as soon as people know they're being minuted, they watch their p's and q's. Okay. So that's one layer of difficulty. That's one layer of difficulty that encourages people towards scripts and roles.

Paul Furey [00:29:04]:
Another layer is that you will often have on a board a shareholder, nonexec director. So the shareholder is somewhat stymied by the people sitting behind them. They have to represent a certain shareholder view. If you have shareholders with competing interests, you might have 2 or 3 shareholders on the same board representing groups of people who want wildly different things. 1 shareholder group might say, no. Let's get capital out of the business as it generates it. Another shareholder group says, no. No.

Paul Furey [00:29:36]:
No. No. We must leave it in to to grow the company, invest for the future. So you have people who are actually not being themselves Yeah. Because the role that they have been hired to perform, they think doesn't allow them to. So that's another layer of complication. And then there is this view between execs and nonexecs. So the execs, basically, they're running the they're running the joint, And they're out to, you know, big personalities by the time they get to typically, chief exec or CTO, CIO, CFO, they're really they're doing really well, and they've they've earned their spurs.

Paul Furey [00:30:14]:
And therefore, they want to be left alone to run the company as they have been hired to run the company in a way which is gonna maximize, the well, I suppose, the output of the company and be their bonuses as well. And often, boards are seen as interference. The board is gonna say no. They're the load of people who are always saying, oh, be careful. Oh, that sounds a bit risky. Oh, you don't wanna do that. And so you get that's the sort of this third layer of, well, just tell them what they need to know. Yes.

Paul Furey [00:30:47]:
So it's anything but open.

Nia Thomas [00:30:50]:
Yep.

Paul Furey [00:30:51]:
A really smart executive team with a really smart, well chaired board will will recognize that actually the board is this this this bunch of people who hopefully have been heavily recruited, who have been there, done it, and got the t shirt, who no long need, are in the hot seat, but are there to lend their ear, their intellect, their their gut reactions, their advice if need be. So a board can be a fabulous resource to an executive team who have the confidence to turn up and say, you know what? We really like to hear your view on this, or here's a plan. It's a bit half cooked, not ready yet, but we wanted to get your first take on it. So the exec team have to be self confident, and the board have to give them a reason to feel confident about coming along and showing up as real people for real conversations. Very much a joint effort.

Nia Thomas [00:31:51]:
There's a lot of trust in there, isn't there, in

Paul Furey [00:31:53]:
that. Huge.

Nia Thomas [00:31:54]:
In your experience, if you have a board that is really playing the play and they then move to being more open. What does that look like? What does it feel like? What kind of light bulbs do you get around the table when you shifted a board from where they were to where you want them to be?

Paul Furey [00:32:15]:
Well, the side conversations turn into the main conversation. So where people might whisper the truth to somebody next to them or in the coffee break

Nia Thomas [00:32:25]:
Yeah.

Paul Furey [00:32:26]:
Or in the pre meeting, they will start those conversations will start to come in. So somebody was saying, I was talking to Sid, you're on today. Should should we yeah. Okay. Let's say it. And then they'll bring that in. Again, the chair has to make it feasible for nonexecs to speak up. Because one thing that nonexecs suffer from, and that is having got the t shirt and everything, they're they're hired and they feel flattered because they've been invited onto a board and they're getting paid, whatever, blah, blah, blah, blah.

Paul Furey [00:32:57]:
And they want to look clever and they want to help, but they're also you know, they they have egos. And so and so it needs to be made safe for the nonexecs to talk about stuff which isn't in their sweet spot. Yeah. Just gut reaction just from my life experience. Do you wanna hear this? Yeah. Okay. Rather than I'm an accountant, and I'm only gonna talk to the numbers. Actually, I might only be the accountant.

Paul Furey [00:33:22]:
But you know what? Something happened in in a company that was in a couple of years ago where things the wheels fell off because blah blah blah. Nothing to do with the numbers. It was sentiment. And it's great for people who are you'll you'll know when it's changed when people start sort of quote unquote talking out of turn, but on invitation. They are straying into different lanes, and everybody is listening to each other.

Nia Thomas [00:33:48]:
Yes. And I I and I often describe it as that what happens be within this closed door is a safe space. And I often say that to to teams when we're in that meeting space. But what you've talked about is is safety, it's trust, it's humility, it's self awareness underpinning it. You you've, I was watching one of your TikToks, and you were talking about listening, and and actually listening is the the 8th direction of my self awareness compass. Why why do you think that boards particularly need to think more about listening rather than postulating maybe, as you said, it's that I've gotta come with all the answers.

Paul Furey [00:34:29]:
Yeah. That's a really good question. They need to do that to win the trust of the executive. If they what a board needs what a board is there to do what's a board there to do? A board there is to help the executives to derisk the way they run the place, to keep things legal so they can act as the conscience of the executives. They make sure that the executives are acting in a way which is in tune with what shareholders and stakeholders expect. So if, you know, if you're running a company that is, you know, sailing close to the wind and their, you know, their venture capital and they're all, you know, swashbuckling, then then then the the the board will be making sure that, you know, the executives are taking the right sorts of risks. So for a for a board to become more than just a bunch of people with the t shirt, They need to get the execs, kind of train their execs to open up in a way that they hadn't expected, that they would open up. And the way to do that is to pay attention to somebody without judging them, without criticizing, without editing, without laying stuff on them.

Paul Furey [00:35:46]:
So imagine you walk into a room and you start talking to me, and I start saying, Nia, you you you're not you sounded very sure about that, but but you don't sound so sure about the projections. And you might say, well, well, we're as sure as we can be. Okay. Well, where are we? Sort of, you know, 60%, 50%, 80%. And so what I'm doing is I'm trying to show this lady, this exec, this CFO, that I will take whatever answer she gives me. I don't care what the answer is. I just want it to be the truth because we can work with the truth. What we can't work with is this sort of double talk, upselling, yada yada yada.

Paul Furey [00:36:29]:
So listening is absolutely the critical skill for a board. Because once I have listened, then she'll think, well, thank you really. I think they really get us. Right. They really understand why I am hesitant, or why I'm going gung ho for this, or why I'm struggling, why I haven't done this yet. And then you are much more likely to say, well, I'm a bit stuck. Yeah. And we can say, do you wanna hear some ideas? Shall we kick around some ideas in here? And you will probably say, well, yeah.

Paul Furey [00:37:02]:
Absolutely. And bang. There, you as the CFO are getting the best possible value from the board. But the board had to listen to you and prove to you that they really understood, not just coming in with criticism and advice after your first 10 sentences.

Nia Thomas [00:37:23]:
Yeah. It feels like emotional intelligence really underpins this because you have to know when it's right to ask those questions, and you have observed. You have to have your antennae on to be able to hear that, sense it, watch the body language, hear the the words that are being used so you know whether you're in the play or whether you're talking about those backstage notes.

Paul Furey [00:37:45]:
Nicely nicely put. That's exactly it. You're you're watching to see if is somebody running their lines, or are they really there with what's really going on? Yeah. And the thing is, though, I will say this, this is not a skill. We all know how to do this. We can all read feelings. We can all hear them. Most of the time, we choose to ignore them or walk past them.

Paul Furey [00:38:12]:
So it's not that we're asking people to be to to learn new skills. We're asking people to remember what it's like to be human, if that doesn't sound too corny. And say, Annette, how would I feel if I was sitting there? I can see how she's feeling right now. Why don't I help her with that? Why don't I say, you don't look too comfortable, or it sounds like I went a bit far with my remarks about your numbers. I'm I I think I've offended you.

Nia Thomas [00:38:35]:
Yes. That makes sense.

Paul Furey [00:38:36]:
There all of a sudden. That's the human real conversation. And you say, no. No. No. Don't worry, Paul. I did, didn't I? Just a bit. And you go, well, yeah.

Paul Furey [00:38:45]:
I did. I yeah. I didn't really like it. Okay. Wow. Now we're really in it. We've had that establishing moment, which was very nasty, very tricky, maybe very uncomfortable, but we've made the most of that that discomfort, and now we're closer.

Nia Thomas [00:39:00]:
Now that

Paul Furey [00:39:01]:
trust is starting to build.

Nia Thomas [00:39:03]:
And by blowing out somebody else's candle, it doesn't make your shine brighter.

Paul Furey [00:39:07]:
Exactly. That's lovely. Yeah. Aphorism. Yeah. Absolutely.

Nia Thomas [00:39:12]:
Our working world is really changing, and employees have different expectations and different needs of employees. What skills do you think we need to be developing for this modern work force to to have these real conversations so we can get to this really human side of the spectrum whilst the tech is getting more techie?

Paul Furey [00:39:31]:
Okay. So I'm going to I'm going to just go back to that diagram that I drew early, Doris, which is I don't think we need to learn any more skills. I do think we need to become more skillful at knowing, noticing ourselves, and we can do that every day with our families, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, just noticing ourselves and and becoming aware of what our repertoire is, which plays do we know, which scripts do we use again and again. Secondly, see it. We can play. We can make a hobby of watching ourselves as we are giving that presentation, as we are running those lines. Yeah. And the third one is to experiment firstly in small inconsequential situations, and then on the bigger stuff in a board meeting or in a pay review or in a performance appraisal or in a really big presentation where we actually call out either what's happening for us because we're a bit broken by our feelings.

Paul Furey [00:40:35]:
We can't think as well as we want to, so we have to admit to how we feel. Or if we want to help someone else by doing some first aid on their feelings to help them to become more able. So all of these it's it's practicing being a decent human being, being a skillful human being.

Nia Thomas [00:40:52]:
And that's the one thing that we need to do.

Paul Furey [00:40:54]:
It's a lot there. But, yeah, be more be more human and notice. Get good at noticing.

Nia Thomas [00:41:00]:
We need to become braver. We need to

Paul Furey [00:41:02]:
A lot. Yes. That's it. Good work.

Nia Thomas [00:41:04]:
For our courage.

Paul Furey [00:41:05]:
Great.

Nia Thomas [00:41:05]:
Paul, it's been absolutely brilliant having a conversation with you. I've I've really thought about things and spoken about things that I haven't done before, and it'll make me think differently about certainly how I run meetings. And I hope listeners and watchers, you might think differently about how you create that safe space and doing it openly and explicitly, because I don't think we do that enough. Paul, it's been brilliant, and I will certainly continue watching you on Tik Tok. And I and I hope that listeners and watchers, they will head over there and and do the same. Thank you so much for joining me.

Paul Furey [00:41:38]:
Thanks for inviting

Nia Thomas [00:41:40]:
me. Thank you for joining me on today's episode where we aim to develop self aware leaders around the globe to generate kinder, more respectful and creative working relationships through reflection, recognition and regulation. Head over to my website at knowingselfknowingothers.co.uk to sign up to my newsletter to keep up to date with my blog, podcast and book Looking forward to having you on my learning journey

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