Episode 226 – Relationships at work with Richard Fox

Richard Fox‘It’s part of building a physical legacy. The work that I do now, working with people all the time, you are aware of the changes that people make in their lives, but I’ve also been rather envious of this friend of mine who’s an architect and he was showing the portfolio of all the buildings that he’s been designing; you know, to write a book is, is part of a legacy, not only for your children, but for people over the next 10, 15 years. And of course I’ll be adding to that legacy with all the stuff that I want to produce in the future.’

Richard Fox has been helping people make relationships work at work for many years now, but the process of writing his book revealed new insights and connections (as it always does…) and also became an exercise in collaboration that reflected the very principles he was writing about.

A fascinating insight into some of the key issues that underpin our relationships (and therefore our ability to Get Stuff Done) as well as the process of turning deep work done face to face into material for a book.


The Learning Corporation site: https://learningcorporation.co.uk/

Richard on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Purposefullives

Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky

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Alison Jones: I’m here today with Richard Fox,  a partner in The Learning Corporation, a pan-European firm of leadership coaches, facilitators and business mentors. He helped create The Learning Corporation after a successful period as a partner with KPMG, having played a leading role with them in setting up an office and developing a thriving client base.

As a leadership coach, Richard helps leaders and managers create and sustain an environment in which people can express themselves, optimize their potential and do their best work. He’s an experienced business mentor, facilitator and coach with specialist skills in the key areas of developing people in line with strategy, collaborative working, talent development, building strategic alliances, partnerships, and structured networks.

As a master facilitator, Richard works with organizations facilitating workshops on personal effectiveness, strategic thinking, managing change leadership, coaching and mentoring, organizational learning, teamwork, and creativity and innovation and more. His first book – Creating a Purposeful Life: How to reclaim your life live more meaningfully and befriend time – was published by Infinite Ideas in June, 2012, and his latest book Making Relationships Work at Work has just been published by Practical Inspiration Publishing. So welcome to the show, Richard.

Richard Fox: Thank you very much, Alison. Thank you so much for all the help that you and your team have given me of the recent years, particularly in the lead up to the publication and the post-publication, it’s been brilliant.

Alison Jones: Thank you. And it is a very busy period. Isn’t it? And I know  when we start the book, it’s just you and me talking, but by the end of that, there’s a whole village involved.

Richard Fox: That’s right. There is yes, yes. It was good to meet them.

Alison Jones: Good. And I’d love to, let’s go back to the purpose behind the book. And it’s interesting reading the introduction, the thing that really stands out is the breadth of your experience in the space of the overarching thing of helping people do their best work. But actually there’s so much that goes into that . Well, before I talk about the breadth of it,  let’s just go right back to first principles: What was it that prompted you to write this book in the first place?

Richard Fox: I think it was, well, it definitely was because there’s a gap in the market, you know, we could have written yet another book on leadership, personal leadership, team leadership, organizational leadership, but there’s zillions of books and interestingly nothing about working relationships.

By that I mean the A-Z, all the different components of how to build effective working relationships. Various people have written books on separate topics like trust or handling conflict or influencing, and sometimes there’s academic books, but there’s nothing that dealt with the breadth of that subject and, importantly,   not in a very practical sort of way, the how to do it.

Alison Jones: Yes. This is the classic thing of business books, isn’t it? That the gap between the theory and the practce.

Richard Fox: Yes, you’ve got to find your niche and then of course we’ve got stacks of material on this, because we’ve been facilitating workshops on, some of them will be called developing effective relationships, but there’s other workshops that we’ll be doing about how to build alliances, but it’s all to do with relationships.

So we’ve got lots of material that we’ve used around the globe. So we know it applies across geographical territories and of course it also becomes a very valuable  business card. Once you’ve got the book that gives you an enormous amount of credibility with people that you’ve never met. And you know, we’re now going to be developing webinars, short, face to face workshops, as part of blended learning, and then there have been lots of one-to-one and group coaching to be done.

The other thing is – which might sound a bit sort of pompous or naive – it’s part of building a physical legacy. You know, the work that I do now, working with people all the time, you are aware of the changes that people make in their lives, but I’ve also been rather envious of this friend of mine who’s an architect and he was showing the portfolio of all the buildings that he’s been designing, but you know, to write a book is, is part of a legacy, not only for your children, but for people over the next 10, 15 years.

And of course I’ll be adding to that legacy with all the stuff that I want to produce in the future.

Alison Jones: I love the idea. So it’s your Shard. There it is, look, this is what I built.

Richard Fox: Yes, yes. And it has a point to it.

Alison Jones: I line ’em up, you knock ’em home. I love that.

Richard Fox: That’s right. Good double act.

Alison Jones: Just on the point of relationships again, what is it about, I mean, I think I know the answer to this, but  it’s such a huge topic. Why are relationships so fundamental to everything about how we work?

Richard Fox: Yes. No I think that’s a good question. I think we often hear people saying it’s all about relationships now that is an overstatement, there are other things as well, but relationships are so important.

And I think they’re going to be so important over the coming years. My gosh, the challenging times that we’re facing in the business world and in society in general are far more challenging than anything that I’ve encountered in my working life. And they’re very complex. So in order to get work done, you do need to work well with other people.

And we’re going to have to be, as it were, adopting new levels of thinking, thinking very creatively. How are we going to reshape our business and how are we going to find new customers, so collaboration, being able to be relaxed with people to share our ideas, not feeling like we’re going to be laughed at or talked about afterwards is so important and of course the side effects of a good working relationship so that it helps the work become enjoyable. And it helps you feel fulfilled. You’re making a contribution and you’re adding to what other people in the team are doing.

Alison Jones: Yes. And interestingly, I was talking about the book just before it was published, we’re speaking just after it was published, and saying that I felt like packaging up a copy for each world leader at the moment, because this is exactly what we need our world leaders doing rather than posturing is actually to be in those sorts of meaningful dialogue with each other.

Richard Fox: Yes. Agreed, agreed. I think one of the hinge chapters in the book is chapter six, which is all about listening. I think if I was to select a single chapter, which I think would give people generally so much opportunity for change and improvements, it would be, and I’m not an expert in this, but how to listen. As though the person that you’re talking to is the only other person in the world you’re giving them your full undivided attention and they realize that you are truly listening to them and you’re sharing, you’re feeding back to them, your understanding of what they’ve been saying, whether you agree with that or not. But I think it’s probably the most precious gift you can give somebody, just to give them your undivided attention.

Lots of troubles in teams, organizations, between organizations within countries and across parliament – a lot of that would be solved if people truly listened, instead of thinking of what they’re going to say next.

Alison Jones: It’s so true and a very, very powerful point. It’s interesting, with the podcast as well, I used to prepare questions and be constantly thinking how I was going to move the conversation onto the next question. And I did an improv class, which is all about just being in the moment and really receiving what comes to you. It’s so transformational, I mean, I know that you don’t particularly talk about improv in the book, but it’s the same principle in the sense it’s actually being present to what is, rather than in your mind and constructing it, really thinking about where you’re going to take it.

Richard Fox: I say this to this  completely new coaches, for example: don’t worry about what’s your next question. If you’re listening carefully to what your client is saying, they provide you with the next question.

 Alison Jones: And actually, if you have the next question prepared, it can really block that.

Richard Fox: Oh, and it’s so obvious to the other person, you know, that they’ve not been listened to, that they’re going through some sort of mechanistic approach. What they’ve just said, they may as well talk to the wall about it.

Alison Jones: I mean, coaching is a great example of this, you know, you’re in the same space with someone, you are listening to them, as you say, very attentively, a kind of magic happens, a kind of relational magic happens. And you do what you do and it transforms somebody’s life. And you know, that’s wonderful.

You can’t do that in a book, right? So much of what you talk about in this book is born out of your experience, actually being there, doing it with people, doing it face to face. How did you translate that into the principles, the lessons that the exercises in the book, what was the challenge of that?

Richard Fox: Well, first of all, to sort out everything, I think first of all  start with the big picture in terms of what sort of chapters do I see, what sort of headings came up with what balance? So we ended up with 16 of those. So you can see the big sort of stepping stones as it were, as you progress through the books from the foundational topics to the sort of topics that you don’t have to deal with every hour of every day, as some more complex topics. The other thing was to source out all the sorts of issues that have been raised by workshop participants and by one to one coaching. I ought to add at this point, in terms of the whole sort of process of writing that right at the very beginning, through a chance, discussion with Anneliese Guerin LeTendre, she was involved in the project, right the way through with me very much  acting as a coach, a supporter, reviewing things, contributing things, and in particular, she wrote two superb chapters, one on communications, the other on valuing diversity, which are her two star specialisms. So, that was a great help, writing the book with somebody else along side you, rather than thrashing about by yourself.

Alison Jones: Yes. Absolutely because it holds you accountable, doesn’t it? And it also means you don’t just disappear down your own rabbit hole.

Richard Fox: Yes .

Alison Jones: But then that process of taking, as I say, the stuff that you do, it’s almost tacit knowledge, isn’t it? It’s the sense of responding to somebody in real time and you, you pulled all that together, but tell me more about the, the magic of translating, what you would say in response to somebody or in response to a particular situation or issue, and  putting that down as if for somebody you don’t know what their issue is, how did that process go for you?

Richard Fox: when I write – and I must say that writing this sort of thing doesn’t come naturally, I’ve spent all my life writing more sort of technical things – but to write as though you’re talking to somebody, I didn’t actually use any form of dictation, which you know, I have on my, on my laptop, for example, and also to imagine the person in the room, so throughout wherever possible I’m addressing the reader as ‘you’, it also helps to put accountability and responsibility on a the reader.

I think if we use the word ‘we’ all the time, there is so much opportunity for the reader to duck out. Well, it applies to Richard as it applies to me and it’s all very interesting. So I try to actually pin the reader down a bit, as I would a client, you know: don’t let them wriggle away.

Alison Jones: That’s interesting, so you use the second person and that’s really conscious. That’s really interesting because it’s can feel quite challenging, can’t it.

Richard Fox: Yes it can, you know, and there are certainly, there are occasions when I’ve stood back from that, when there’s a tendency to be perhaps critical, and then I’ve gone back to ‘we’ and ‘us’. I’ve also written , instead of saying, I, I, I all the time, obviously it’s not good practice, but I’ve spent all my working career working with people. And a lot of that has been in partnerships over the last, gosh, 20 years it’s been working leading a dispersed team. So it’s the enjoyment of working with people. And also recognizing that I’ve learned a lot through my business partner and also through the associates that I’ve worked with around the globe and also of course learned a lot from workshop participants and also  the coaching class.

So by using the ‘we’ instead of ‘I’, I think I’m trying to acknowledge the collaborative way that I enjoy working. So again, it’s trying to demonstrate that I’m not just telling you, read how you should do things. It’s how I also endeavor to work, knowing that I think we can get the best results by collaborating well.

Alison Jones: Which makes perfect sense, of course, as well as why you would work with Anneliese, you’re walking the talk aren’t you, you’re doing some collaboration.

Richard Fox: Yes.

Alison Jones: What does the actual act of writing look like for you, Richard? You say you don’t dictate, which I know quite a few people do: do you get yourself in a sort of daily habit, or did you binge write occasionally, or how did it go?

Richard Fox: Well, it has to be fitted round a busy professional, and  a social life as well. And I suppose I found certainly when I wrote my first book, I took myself off to Farnham castle, a beautiful old building with some modern rooms in it,  paid a daily rent to just sit there and write without any other distractions. And I found that with writing this book, I could write best when I went to a village coffee shop when it opened at 10 o’clock in the morning, it wasn’t very busy. So I went there particularly at the beginning of the week, I stayed there for about an hour, hour and a half rounds, three quarters.

And what I wrote there was probably, and I don’t know, probably four times more than I would have written sitting in my office with all the distractions of all the other things that need doing, all these little things that are trying to get your attention demonstrates that I enjoy working with people, that you’ve got this buzz of the staff, some other guests there, but you’ll not eavesdropping on them at all, you’re not at all interested in what they’re saying, but you’ve got this sort of background noise. I’ve got an associate based up in  Cheshire and he was telling me some years ago that he often goes to garden centres. He’s more extrovert than I am. And, and does enjoy being in company, and again, he takes himself off to a coffee shop at a garden centre and writes there.

Alison Jones: Yes, I’m completely with you. I write so much better in a coffee shop: silence itches away at me and makes me feel lethargic, but that buzz sort of energizes you. And it also, even though these people don’t know you from Adam and they don’t care what you’re doing, the fact that people are there means that somehow you have to sit and write. Because there’s people around dammit and they might judge you. I don’t know what that is, it’s just that sense of being in public and sitting down to do a job. And as you say, there’s no other distractions there and you just get on and do it, but there’s a sort of energy around that.

Richard Fox: I’ll tell you what IS a distraction. And that’s the display of cakes.

Alison Jones: Oh, the book pounds.

Richard Fox: Yes. You’ve probably got better will power than I have…

Alison Jones: Yes. You sort of feel you owe it to the coffee shop too, to give them a bit of payback for the rent that you aren’t paying on their table.

Richard Fox: I’ll tell you one thing. It’s one of these things that you know before you start, but you realize it as you go along. And that is how these topics, the 16 topics in the 16 chapters of the book, the topics, the subject headings, are all interconnected, interrelated.

And that was one of the joys of writing the book, was to say, yes, I knew that that that’s related to that, but, Oh gosh. I’ve just written some stuff about change, David Rock’s change model, the SCARF.

Alison Jones: Yes. Yes, that’s brilliant.

Richard Fox: I know, incidentally I worked with David Rock 25 years ago. And you’re writing this chapter about motivation. And you’re thinking about :right, now, when I’ve been working with groups, they tended to come up with three main things that drive them… Gosh, I can map those against the five letters of SCARF without forcing it. Now, that shouldn’t be a surprise, it’s all sort of the same stuff, you know, we’re human beings, no matter if you’re sitting in Taiwan or, or, Sao Paulo, but it’s just wonderful to discover extra links.

I think it makes the book that much more useful. And if anybody ever says to me, ah, I’ve read your book, but I didn’t learn anything new either…. I’m not a genius. I’m not a genius. You’re either a genius or, my friend, let’s have a drink together.

Alison Jones: It’s one of the best reasons for writing in the first place, isn’t it?  The breadth and the depth and the intellectual curiosity, the intellectual stimulation of doing it and making those new connections.  You’ve had a lifetime in this field and you can still discover new stuff, new ways of looking at things just from the act of writing down what you already know in a sense.

Richard Fox: Yes. And the other thing was, I didn’t want to do overdo it. My gosh, I spent upwards of  5-0, 50 days studying NLP, which is the study and modeling of excellence. So again, you look back at some of the stuff, just a small proportion of the stuff that you’ve learned and that you’ve put into practice, and you say, right, you know, let me weave that into the book. I don’t particularly want to label it as this NLP because you know, they just ask questions about what the hell does that mean? But I just sort of enriched the book, by, for example, when you’re listening to somebody, you can learn a lot through that. We can learn a lot through the choice of words that they say, or I’ll hang on a minute, that’s a generalization, or I could be telling me more about this, why are they holding stuff back? Or actually they’re not displaying some of their preferences, you know, that sort of things that turn up and also also turn up in personality profiles, personality tests. That the person that I’m talking to seems to be very, very disconnected. So by listening and picking up all this sort of stuff, you can then adjust what you then say back to them so that you can then get onto and stay on to their own wavelength.

Whereas so often, and I’ve experienced myself is that years ago when I was working in IBM and I was working with a lovely IBM-er, we noticed that from time to time, we were just miscommunicating. So we sat down one lunchtime and realized that whilst I’m a big picture person thinking global terms, visualizing stuff, lots of visual spatial stuff that the, my co-facilitator was very much – and they had an engineering degree, but I don’t draw any conclusions from professional degrees or what sort of professional work they do – but this person said ‘I feel so much more comfortable working through things in a logical step by step basis.’ So that’s a different preference regarding assimilating information.

So  I was able to chunk down from all this airy fairy, global visualization stuff to chunk it right down to step by step logical progression. And then we could communicate, then we were on the same wavelength, and it’s that sort of thing that we’re trying to get across in the book.

Alison Jones: Yes. And it’s one of the things I found most helpful in the book as well, the things that drive people, you know, ABC type drivers, it’s, it’s absolutely fascinating, but I mean, genuinely, I know I would say that, but it genuinely is. So, as you say, it’s all kind of integrated, there are links between them, but there is this whole … it’s just a really comprehensive toolkit, isn’t it for, for getting on better with people and getting more done effectively?

Yes. And I think it’s  important to you as the publisher to also enjoy the sort of book that you’re publishing, otherwise it’s a bit of a grind, isn’t it?

Yes. I’m very lucky with our list, our authors, this is one of the great joys of publishing…

Richard Fox: Yes, you have. I’ve joined a very good stable.

Alison Jones: That’s right. It’s a good pedigree. So Richard, if I was going to ask you about your best tip for a first time author, having come out the other end, blinking into the sunlight with your book clutched in your hand, what would you say?

Richard Fox: Well, I’ve mentioned, I think probably like quite a few people, have  an external coach or somebody who’s on the journey with you, not necessarily your partner back at home because they get too much of it anyway.

I think also to keep the scope of the book tight. And, and it’s interesting that I originally wrote about 80,000 words. And then you said, hang on a minute, you know, the typical length of a  paperback is about 60,000. So fortunately I was able to transfer chunks of the book onto the Learning Corporation’s website, but I think I would sort of say, to answer your question properly: know why you’re writing the book and, to also to meet a need out there, because we can all write about loads and loads of things. But if you want to sell the book, what is the need that’s out there that you want to try and meet and  to express that need as specifically as possible so that your offering can also be specific and intersect with the market need. And that’s one of the key principles of selling. So what I’m saying shouldn’t come as a surprise to some folks quite experienced in the whole psychology of sales.

Alison Jones: And you’re right. It’s, it’s a fundamental of selling, but actually when you’re so close to a topic, it’s quite hard to remember that isn’t it? To think about it from other people’s perspective? You just want to share everything. And actually, I mean, I don’t want to brag or anything, but, you know, in terms of the length of the book, I was right, wasn’t I?

Richard Fox: You were, yes. It’s a bit like giving a talk, you know, it’s a lesson from the oil industry: if you haven’t got your point across within 30 minutes, stop boring.

Alison Jones: Oh very good. I don’t want it, but I get it.

Richard Fox: Yes. Sorry. Sorry. That’s the last one, I promise.

Alison Jones:  I don’t believe you. I always ask people as well, Richard, for a recommendation. So, I mean, obviously Making Relationships Work at Work should be on everybody’s list, frankly, if they’ve got to work with anybody, which is all of us, but is there another business book that’s helped you or that’s meant a lot to you  in your career?

Richard Fox: Well, the  book I wish I’d written 20, 30 years ago was Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Yes. I’ve recommended that every single workshop that I  run, I’ve no financial interest in it myself, but I think it’s a really foundational book around personal effectiveness.

Alison Jones: We need to run the data, but I, I would be willing to put money on that being the most recommended book ever on this show.

Richard Fox: Yes. And I can understand that. I had the privilege of working with them right at the beginning  when I went independent and an amazing guy with the huge benefits of a big team of people behind him who were also brilliant. And so I also facilitated some of his other books. I think if somebody said to me what business book would I recommend my obvious first answer would be, what areas do you want to develop? You know, what issue are you facing? And if push comes to shove, I would say actually, let’s, let’s be realistic. Now we’re in a period where a lot of people are very anxious, very fearful. We’re in a period of mass unemployment. And I would say, I think to people that things like fear and anxiety build on primarily in the future, things like guilt often linked to guilt and regret, that sort of stuff is based very much in the past.

And if you let your mind start working around fear and anxiety, it goes round and cycles, cycles, cycles, it just starts occupying your mind night and day, these thoughts become stronger and stronger, it’s almost as though they were physical barriers. So I would say to folk, spend more time in the present and if you’ve not read it, get hold of Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now written some years ago, but he keeps  updating it. I find that a very good book in terms… because I’ve spent my whole life living in the future, and to bring yourself into the present because in the present moment, and that’s just passed, we’re now in a new present moment, that’s now passing, there is no fear. There’s no anxiety. There’s no guilt there. No regrets. If you can spend time each day or twice a day, perhaps only 10 minutes, or five minutes to start with, you’ll start seeing the benefits of it. Then you will be able see the problems with greater perspective and greater calmness. And I think also greater inner inner resources.

Alison Jones: Yes, very timely as you say. And I have to admit it’s one of those books that I feel I have read that actually I haven’t. Yeah, it’s on the guilt list. Thank you.

Richard Fox: Oh, you mentioned guilt. We’ll pass over that.

Alison Jones: Yes, clearly I need to read the book

Richard Fox: Or, you know, I’ve got it on the iPad, you know, there are other formats.

Alison Jones: When I say read, I use it in the broadest sense – I go fairly natively between the audio, digital and print books. Just whichever suits me best what you know, where I am and what I’m doing. I consider it all  reading.

Richard Fox: Yes.

Alison Jones: And Richard. If people want to find out more about you, more about the work you do, more about Making Relationships Work at Work, where should they go?

Richard Fox: I think the first place go would be the websites, my firm, LearningCorporation.co.uk. And there’s some information about myself there. Obviously I have other websites as well, but that is the prime resource.

Alison Jones: Fantastic. I will put that link up on the show notes at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. If you can’t write it down now. Such a pleasure to talk to you, Richard, a really thoughtful  conversation, which is, you know, absolutely what I expected from you, but really wonderful to talk to you.

Richard Fox: Thank you. Thank you once again. And I think it’s time we had another coffee and cake. That would be wonderful.

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