Get the sodding pasta yourself

Posted on March 31, 2010


It’s 4.30am.

I’m confronting my body’s reluctance to go to sleep by sitting on the sofa, sipping a pint of water and picking away at my feet. There’s a rough bit on my smallest toenail. If only I could smoothe that out I reckon things would be OK.

My toenails aren’t what have woken me up. Nor are they what propel my unwelcome thought processes. The picking is merely an outward sign of a lifelong problem.

I know that because my therapist once told me. Although obviously, she didn’t tell me. Therapists merely persuade you to ask questions about yourself which might lead you to think in a particular way.

It goes without saying (athough I’m bound to say that when I’m about to explain the point anyway) that I don’t explain this in a bid to make you feel sorry for me. To employ pity would be a technique pulled from the box marked ‘To be used sparingly’. I reckon I’ve probably used that once to often anyway. No-one likes anyone who cries wolf or bleeds good feeling dry.

It’s my apparent lack of influencing skills which fuel my early morning thought processes with the same voracity I force daily updates of life at the BBC I force upon my husband at the end of every working day.

Maybe the two things are linked. Maybe if I had better influencing skills maybe the need to track daily progress would dissipipate. Maybe if my influencing skills were better I would have better tools at my disposal to persuade or cajole people into my way of thinking. That way things would get done. I wouldn’t shuffle around W12 followed by a cloud of bad thinking. And, as a result, the daily updates wouldn’t take so long.

But it’s those influencing skills which are clearly lacking. It’s clear that raw passion for the cause and unbridled enthusiasm in pursuing the goal is in no way enough. I can see the look in their eyes.

Raising a smile isn’t the hard-wired route onto someone’s to-do I once thought it was. The usual techniques aren’t working so effectively anymore. I’ve started realising that effective meetings can’t be conducted over a coffee in the canteen (because there are far too many distractions in a canteen and the fact that other people are around does rather preclude you from saying what you feel). I’m banging my head against a wall. What’s going wrong?

Yesterday, someone suggested going on an influencing skills course. It was a sincerely meant. The very fact the course exists at the BBC – and presumably is very well attended – indicates there’s a need for it in a publically funded organisation.

And yet the very idea of attending one makes me snort with derision.

This is in part because I attended a negotiating skills course years ago when I was working at the English String Orchestra. The theory was sound. If you want to be an orchestral manager you’re going to have to get used to the fact that you’ll be bargaining with musicians to get them to play at a gig. It seemed the fact they were getting much-needed work was not important enough. I would have to sell the idea of work to them too. So being able to negotiate with them to get them to turn up was a vital skill.

At the very least, the negotiating skills course was a day out. The theory seemed sound.

But when it got to the role playing I found it difficult to get into character. And on the few ocassions I defied my own inner critic and those around me, I found it difficult to imagine in what scenario I would be able to apply it successfully. I couldn’t see how I could switch my mind into thinking “I need to employ my influencing skills now. I need to go through steps one to five, monitor how the person I’m trying to persuade reacts to my proposals and then amend my language accordingly.”

It just wasn’t going to happen. It smacked of introducing a script. It was playing a playing a part. It was acting. And I’m shit at acting. That’s why I always played the vicar in school plays.

Employing influencing skills seemed like a circuitous method. The idea skirted deviousness. It was like wanting to make spaghetti carbonara for supper but going down to the bottom of the road to persuade the woman who lived on the corner to go out and buy the spaghetti and then deliver it back to me in my house.

What was the point? Why waste time trying to persuade her to do something she didn’t want to do when I might as well go out and buy the sodding spaghetti myself? That way, she could stay in and sit by the fire watching something on BBC One and I could get the meal cooked and eaten a whole lot quicker.

Why involve a third party? Why waste time trying to get a third party involved. Their committment to the cause is only going to be as good as the techniques you’ve employed to get that person to the table. If they’re heart’s not in it anyway, what possible good is me trying to persuade them going to have anyway?

I’m constantly reminded by people who seem to enjoy the process that one has to ‘play the game’. It is as though because there are a significant number of other people who are playing the game and employing the techniques that I have to do the same as well. The advice is usually delivered with a smug tone although I acknowledge that if I find it patronising this probably indicates I should return to a weekly slot with my therapist.

But to my mind, playing the game consumes just as much energy as doing the work itself. And because I doubt just how much more effective I would be if I had other techniques to play it, I’d just really rather get on with stuff by persuading others that cutting out the crap would be the way to go.

The only reason we need negotiating or influencing skills is because others intentionally or otherwise put up barriers. Why should we have to navigate our way around those barriers when actually – maybe – those barriers are the things which need to come down? If I’ve dismantled the checkpoint, why can’t they?

As it happens, that is the classic argument for employing influencing skills. But when I look at it on paper I’m still left thinking that having gone the extra mile to be a reasonable person eager to please, keen to do a good job and driven to be helpful and accommodating, why do I then have to go the extra mile to compensate for other people’s failings in doing the same?

Oh God, I’m repeating myself. And the fact remains that it’s now nearly 6am. I might have stopped picking my nails but that’s only so I can type.

What worries me more is that this particular problem has grown over time. It isn’t going away. Which either means it’s time to find the door marked exit or to dismiss my lofty principles and book myself on the course.

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