The spiral of negativity — focus on your strengths, successes and achievements

Continuing his series on attitude in customer service Steven Harris focuses on the importance of success.

The main thing that holds us back from engaging positively with customers is our lack of self-belief. Focusing on strengths, successes and achievements really helps us to feel positive about ourselves and increases our willingness to reach out, take some risks and engage with our customers and our colleagues.

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During the early years of running my business, I was also an LEA governor for a local secondary school. I was invited to create and carry out some workshops around building self-confidence. After some careful thought I created workshops that were aimed at helping school children visualise and re-affirm their strengths and successes.

We invited the children to create self-portraits of themselves and then invited their friends and families to write as many positive comments about them on their self-portraits –everything they loved about them and their special accomplishments whatever they might be. It was so powerful to see and hear the positive things that friends and family had said about these children.

When the workshop finished, the classroom teacher who was working alongside me at the time decided to stick all the self -portraits on the classroom wall. This reminded them each day of all the good stuff they had heard about themselves. What a great idea that was to surround them with all these great re-enforcing comments. These portraits stayed stuck up on the wall until the end of the year.

What was even more powerful was the lasting impact that it had on the children. They constantly talked about and referred back to the workshop. I’m convinced it was for many of them the first time that they had spent time hearing about the great things that those close to them actually thought about them.

When we worked with George Davis who was launching Per Una in Marks and Spencer in 2003, he was keen for the colleagues on the front-line to feel confident about themselves when selling his new ranges.

It appeared to me that we could adapt the work we had carried out in schools and run it for those Marks and Spencer colleagues selling Per Una. It worked brilliantly. The colleagues loved it and it really helped them to feel successful and confident in themselves.

Since then we have carried out this self-portrait workshop for many clients with great success. In recent years we have developed this further by getting colleagues to think about it for their teams. It really does help to unite a team and get them feeling proud to be part of it.

Getting teams to create a team strength list, success board and talk about why it is good to be part of the team helps create a positive environment and it becomes a great visual reminder of what a great place to work they have.

A few years ago, many years after we first began running workshops on this subject matter, I bumped into a delegate who had attended one of our workshops. We were both pleased to meet each other again. Once we had established who we both were and where we had met before, she pulled a piece of paper out of her purse. At first I was a bit confused as to what it was but she soon explained it to me. It turned out that she had been so taken with the self-portrait exercise, immediately after the event she had transferred all the positive comments her colleagues had written about her onto a small piece of paper so that it would fit neatly into her purse. She went on to explain how she took it out from time to time and it gave her a real boost and reminded her of how great she felt that afternoon when she took part in the workshop.

Exercise – focus on your achievements

Spend time thinking about what you have achieved. Many of us write a list for the week or the day and cross off the items we have achieved. What’s left at the end of the day is just transferred over to the next day. We never really get to appreciate what we have achieved. Try ticking the items you have achieved and crossing out the ones that need transferring over. This way you get to only see the items you have achieved.

Focus on successes

As well as focusing on your strengths you should remind yourself of your successes, however small you might feel them to be.

I once attended a conference where they aimed to do exactly that – get people to focus on their successes. They started off by asking us all to split our lives into thirds – easy for me at that time as I had just turned 30. Once we had done that they asked us to consider each third really carefully and note down all the successes we had in that first third. Now to begin with this appeared really difficult as there were lots of things that we just take for granted. For example – learning to walk, talk, count, write and so on.

We were then asked to repeat the same process for the second third and the final third. Although it took some time and some deep soul searching, eventually it started flowing and it was amazing to recall all the successes we had had in our life time.

We went round the group talking about our successes and listening to the others in the group and it was really uplifting.

The next stage of the conference was to think about the next section of our lives that we were entering into and start to write down all the successes that we wanted to have during this period. Again everyone went to work thinking about future ambitions, writing them down, then declaring them to the group. This time we had to talk through why it was so important to us to succeed in these things. The more reasons we could think of for having these future successes the more compelling they became.

Now I always keep that list to hand. When I am about to do something that will take me out of my comfort zone, I allow myself a quick glance at the successes I have had in my life so far. It really does help to put me into a resourceful state and help me feel a little bit better about the challenging project ahead.

Steven Harris is founder and managing partner of Energize Learning and can be contacted at  and these articles are based on his book Fired Up and Ready to Go!


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