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Comment: Three little words

By Praxity executive director Græme Gordon


As many will already know, I’ve been blessed with three great children. Over the years, I’ve tried to give them good advice and guidance. Like most other parents, I suspect, I’m never certain I’m being listened to but am always hopeful that my advice is both taken on board and is as worthwhile as I intended.

When musing on this the other day I also wondered what advice would I give to them or anyone else, if my time was limited, I had to be brief or so they would only remember one bit of advice

My first thought was that I would say something I often told my students when I was lecturing. “From this day forward you will never have a problem again!” When the laughter and jeering stopped, I’d explain that what I was suggesting is that when they are presented with a ‘problem’ in future, they should automatically say – to themselves or out loud – “This is not a problem, it’s a situation”. While ‘problems’ are often difficult to tackle and regularly downright depressing, intuition tells us that a situation has solutions and is surmountable. And not depressing. If a ‘problem’ is brought to you, then tell the deliverer it is only a ‘situation’, and ask them to suggest two possible solutions.

It is surprising how often their whole demeanour will change – by being asked to present solutions, they feel better. It also allows you time to consider the situation yourself, reflect on their suggestions and more confidently accept one of theirs or recommend your own solution instead.

Well, that was my first thought.  But then it dawned on me: “this is neither short nor concise, nor easy to digest for that matter”.

So, to rethink!

Of course, the magic three little words!

Not, as one of my colleagues immediately thought “I love you”, but “Carry on Chief!”

Now you may be as puzzled as I expect my kids would be. But those three, albeit sometimes with a different closing title, have served me well over many years. I was taught it at Britannia Royal Naval College. As a rookie officer under training I was lucky enough to befriend the CPO of my division – the most senior non-commissioned officer – and it was he who suggested that if I was not sure of the command to give to junior officer or rating, then saying “Carry on Chief” or its equivalent, was often the best option.

Particularly when I was still wet about the ears, this not only swiftly resolved an issue it also sounded decisive and gave confidence to the junior that I knew what I was doing, and had faith in them.

My colleagues now know I often reply with “Nike” to e-mail suggestions, alluding not to the Greek goddess of victory, but to the “Just Do It” strapline of the sportswear company. It’s a bit of an in-joke, but has the same intention. I do have faith in them and, just like the problem v situation scenario, I do ask them to suggest at least one (and preferably two) solutions to all situations we discuss. “Nike” is both an affirmation of their suggested course and of my faith in them.

Mark you, this is very much a two-way street.

I have myself always tried to ensure that, whenever I’m discussing a situation with a superior, I offer at least one solution. While they may, on reflection, decide on an alternative course of action, I know that when they effectively say “Carry on Graeme”, it is a sign of strength and confidence. Now that’s something I’d love to pass on to my kids.

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