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Speaker 1 (00:04):

Hello and welcome to the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast, the fortnightly podcast that explores self-awareness, leader effectiveness, and leadership at all levels. Join me your host, Nia Thomas. As we talk to today’s Knowing Self, knowing others guest, Alison Smith.

It’s absolutely lovely to speak to you, and it’s the first time we’ve actually had a conversation. We’ve certainly followed each other and had lots of chats on LinkedIn. And one of the ways that I’ve certainly got to know you was through your book. So for listeners who don’t know of your book, it’s called Can’t See the Wood For the Trees, landscaping Your Life to Get Back On Track And they can find it on Amazon. Okay. And I’m gonna ask you to introduce yourself in a minute, and I would like you to tell listeners a bit about your book, because your model of coaching is really unique and I’d never heard of anything quite similar and I thought it was just brilliant. So it’s fabulous to have you here. Please do introduce yourself and tell us more about your book.

Speaker 2 (01:12):

I’m, I suppose, a coach trainer. I would suggest it’s within mindset, creative thinking, problem solving would be where my specialty is. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. A lot of it still 37 years after leaving university is within the procurement arena. But as you say, I’ve written a book I podcast, I write in LinkedIn, and it’s sort of aimed at a broader market. I’ve got various programs coming up, aims beyond procurement, but if you go on LinkedIn, you’ll find me obviously also talking all things procurement. In terms of the book, I think, and it sort of relates actually to the topic that we’re gonna be talking about in terms of, I suppose how did, how did my own self-awareness emerge? And I did an NLP neurolinguistic programming course back in 22,000. Amazing. And I suppose I just, oh, absorbed everything they were telling. What I also found was Metaphor was a such powerful, for me personally, that I’m a bit of a resistant I’m a mismatch.

Speaker 2 (02:25):

It would be the language. So you say white and I’ll say black. So trying to solve problems with me, trying to get me to accept the, the prep giving me feedback’s not great. Okay. So in some respects, I found tools that helped me bypass my logical mind that was quite resistance to hearing what everybody else had to say. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative> and, and then found that the tools that helped me solve problems and get along much better in the world also helped other people. And, and I think the reason that metaphor works is that I say we take, send Logic on a holiday. The fact that logic, if we’re talking about problems, then logic might say, oh, let me tell you all about my problem and I’ll give you all the information about the problem and justify why I’m stuck, why there is no different away to see this situation. And of course, I’m stuck and I’m right.

Speaker 1 (03:21):


Speaker 2 (03:21):

<Affirmative>, once you put logic to one side and go, well, what does that look like? Metaphorically, then you start talking patterns. And that takes me back to university. I did statistical analysis. So I think there’s the pattern recognition that you can then see that said, oh, okay, I’m always re resistant in these circumstances. And fascinating, having played around with metaphors for 20 years, the book arose from when I suddenly realized in coaching sessions that people were delivering me on a plate, metaphors in their language when they were stuck. So I can’t see the wood for the treats. I’m stuck in a, I’m going around in circles. And what I realized was that, oh, okay. But that metaphor not only describes how they’re stuck, it also gives you a clue to finding the solution. So I can’t see the wood for the trees. I can’t see the wood for the trees, logically I’m stuck. Oh, but metaphorically, but what would you do in a real wood follow a path? I’d cut the trees down, I’d go to a higher vantage point to be able to see the whole wood. I’d get out of the wood. And suddenly you end up with a whole range of options, which if you then say all of those range options are available to you in your stuck situation, then suddenly what the solution that was hidden previously emerges. And people find different ways of seeing their situation really

Speaker 1 (04:55):

Absolutely fascinating. And I’ve really enjoyed the book. And it’s so, it makes so much sense to, to see your problem from a different perspective and see it from a perspective where you can imagine a change. So I thought it was absolutely brilliant. So if we have any listeners who are a bit stuck in their world at the moment, then please do pick up a copy of the book.

Speaker 2 (05:22):

Thank you.

Speaker 1 (05:22):

So with that, I’m gonna ask you some questions and I will be very interested to hear how you approach the answers based on your experience and your view of the world. How do you define self-awareness?

Speaker 2 (05:43):

That’s such a hard question, isn’t it? <Laugh>, <laugh>. The I suppose for me there’s a difference between conscious awareness and unconscious awareness. Mm. So I think for me, self-awareness is when we become consciously aware of who we are as a person, what motivates us, you know, why we do what we do, and how we are different from other people. So how is my experience of the world a different than somebody else’s experience of the world and, and what works for them and what motivates them. But it is the conscious awareness of it rather than blindly. I always described my self-awareness emerging when I got divorced. And I, and in the book I say that I, it felt like I was a bit of a pig in <laugh> in terms of I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (06:40):

And, and self-awareness to me is suddenly realizing there is so much more to know about me. I just thought I just experienced and reacted to the world with no awareness of who I was. And therefore, self-awareness, I suppose, is the conscious awareness. It’s the lifting of the veil. Oh my God. That all of that is me and I have a choice about it. So I suppose there’s also something around a choice of how I behave rather than it being this is me and this is how I am. And there is no other way of me acting in the world other than like that

Speaker 1 (07:21):

What an interesting view. So both situational and environmental, I guess. Yeah. All of that changes your awareness of yourself.

Speaker 2 (07:31):


Speaker 1 (07:37):

Do you think there is a relationship between self-awareness and leader effectiveness?

Speaker 2 (07:42):

<Laugh>? Oh yes. <Laugh> <laugh>. Oh, definitely. The, and I think, and I think that’s why I was saying about the fact that within procurement this is what I’m doing all the time, that most of the soft skills, you know, mindset, stakeholder engagement workshops that I do really start with questions about helping people become more self-aware.

Speaker 1 (08:09):


Speaker 2 (08:10):

Because I don’t know that I can teach, and therefore I think it’s the same for leadership. I don’t know that you can teach effective communication, effective relationship building without there being an element of you understanding yourself first. Because otherwise you, you go into a, into a communication with somebody not realizing how much of you, your sort of mirroring onto the other and thinking, well, this works for me, therefore it will work for them. Yeah. So took me a while to realize that, oh, why am I asking that question at the beginning of the workshop? Like for instance, why do you resist change? And people come up with this because people in stakeholder engagement workshops come in, really, they’re stakeholders, they’re awkward, they’re, you know, resistant. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, you know, it’s their fault. And they’re pushing responsibility onto the other person. And by asking the question, why do you resist change? People come up with a lovely list. And then I go, so they’re all the reasons you resist change. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>. So they’re all the same reasons why somebody else resists change, and therefore your communication then needs to take account of all of those reasons why somebody might be resisting you. So I, I realize that it’s sort of a <laugh> taking people even with that simple question on a journey of their own self-awareness in order to yeah. Be more effective, whether it’s in leadership, communication or whatever it is else they’re doing.

Speaker 1 (09:45):

Wow. That’s fascinating. And it’s very interesting that you, you say that the, the number of times that I’ve thought about different, different ways of working, different aspects of the work we do, what we do, how we do it, starts with self-awareness.

Speaker 2 (10:02):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. Oh, I, oh, I’m a bit of a bore in LinkedIn where people will go on about what do you think the greatest leadership challenge is? And I’ll go self-awareness. Oh, what do you think the, you know, the first communications skill it is self-awareness, <laugh>. Yeah,

Speaker 1 (10:20):

I’m definitely with you all the way there. Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organizations?

Speaker 2 (10:32):

Yes. <laugh>,

Speaker 1 (10:35):

What does that mean and what does that look like for you?

Speaker 2 (10:40):

I think to, for me, it’s about inspiring others to either be better themselves to inspire change, inspire action. And therefore, absolutely you can, you know, actually I was on the phone call to somebody really annoyed today on about mid bank

Speaker 1 (11:02):

<Laugh>, Uhhuh <affirmative>.

Speaker 2 (11:03):

But, but he, he, he, the question he asked me in response to my frustration absolutely took all that frustration out. And I just thought, and I actually arti, I, I articulated it and said, that was a great question.

Speaker 1 (11:19):

Oh, tell,

Speaker 2 (11:20):

That was a great question. Now, it could be that it’s on a script somewhere about this is what you do, but I think there was an element of Yeah. That inspired and it, and it facilitated change in me just in, in the one question,

Speaker 1 (11:34):

Are you able to share that question with us?

Speaker 2 (11:36):

I can’t remember whether another one, I can’t remember whether I can remember now, but it was, yeah, I can’t remember it. It’s, it’s sort of gone. I can remember the experience the question left me with, and perhaps that’s where that leadership comes from, that we don’t necessarily have to remember the words, but we remember the, how we felt as a result of the receiving end of that behavior.

Speaker 1 (11:57):

Yeah. There’s a, there’s a quote that you often see on LinkedIn saying, you, you often forget what people did, but you’ll never forget how people made you feel.

Speaker 2 (12:07):

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1 (12:07):

And, and that’s the case in point. Jean, do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organizations have greater self-awareness than leaders at other levels of organizations?

Speaker 2 (12:22):

<Laugh>? Oh, that’s such a hard one. It is because I, well, because you can go one of two ways on it. I, one of them is, Hmm. I can think of a lot of instances where that’s absolutely clearly not true. Uhhuh and senior leaders are oblivious to their actions and who they are.

Speaker 1 (12:44):


Speaker 2 (12:46):

But then I, but I wonder whether that’s just because they’re the ones we see actions of more frequently. Okay. And therefore, in my experience as a coach, then, you know, people are self-aware. They’re not self-aware. I don’t know whether or not their position in the organization differs. So the answer to that would be, I don’t know that leaders are any more or less self-aware certain behaviors that got them where they got to. Yeah. One of the things I talk about is taking our humanity into business. So the other thing about my filters is the fact that I’m much more likely to either notice leaders who are absolutely bringing their humanity in, and therefore I would suggest very self-aware, or I’m really noticing those leaders that don’t bring the humanity in. And I would suggest quite often are not very self-aware.

Speaker 1 (13:48):

So do you think that that their portrayal of self-awareness changes based on which, whether they have a mask on, or whether they’re, you know, whether they’re in front of the crowd of 150 managers or whether they’re in an office, having a one-to-one with you, do you think that changes how they display that?

Speaker 2 (14:07):

This is one of those times where I’ll say something and let’s explore that. My sense is the more self-aware you become, the more the lay the more layers are removed.

Speaker 1 (14:17):


Speaker 2 (14:18):

Because, because as you become more self-aware, you realize that who you are. So I wrote a poem about I reclaim all my parts, and there’s an element of perhaps as we become more self-aware, we own and accept all of our parts, whether they’re parts that we love or don’t love mm-hmm. <Affirmative>, but we bring them all because that makes us who we are. Yeah. So I can say, oh, I can be a bit excitable and, you know, loud. And I could either deny that or accept that. And I can, and in some respects, in in my, in its denial, I’m, I’m not self-aware. Yeah. And I’m also then putting that barrier between me and other people cuz they know Ah-huh <affirmative>, that I’m not me. Okay. Because there’s an element of, and this is my experience, there’ll be some people that I’m still, you know, more mic to or my experience is my excitability.

Speaker 2 (15:21):

So in some of the workshops at the moment, especially when it’s, you know, new, I can’t see anybody. I have to provide my own happiness to get through three hours of training. Yeah, sure. Yeah. So it can be a bit much, but I also know that people accept that because they, there’s an element of, they absolutely know it’s not coming with it’s not planned, it’s not manipulated, it’s just pure me. Okay. And therefore people will join me in my excitement of people telling me weird things that they buy for the organization. And I just get giggled, <laugh>. And they don’t. And I, and I don’t think it annoys people as much because it’s, yeah. That’s her, that’s what makes her the trainer. That’s who she is. So I think there’s an element of the more self-aware we are, the more accepting we become of all, all of our parts. So the, the poem’s about loving, you know, the, the parts that we deny, the one ones we don’t like, it’s like we are all of that.

Speaker 1 (16:25):

Ah-Huh. <Affirmative>. So self-awareness, being genuine, being authentic, all of those things. And your acceptance or awareness of yourself, the layers that you peel away or that you put on will change depending on your, your given situation.

Speaker 2 (16:45):

Yeah, I think so. Cause I think, I think you’ve got more choice then about, oh, I always feel as if I have to act in this particular way when I’m in business. Yeah. You know, business looks like this which I fight against.

Speaker 1 (17:00):

I suppose you limit your options by doing that.

Speaker 2 (17:02):

Well, I think so, but I think there’s a lot of people there that go, you know, how, how often do we see in LinkedIn or that’s for Facebook. It’s like, yeah, yeah. That’s how people, you know, that’s how you and I are even here talking. Absolutely.

Speaker 1 (17:15):


Speaker 2 (17:15):

Won’t, it won’t have been from a business statement, it’ll have just been a, an engagement at a heart to heart level that has led to that, you know, over the what months, years that building up of that relationship such that, you know, you know who I am, I know who you are. And I don’t know that we’ve got it wrong, if that makes sense. Mm-Hmm. <Affirmative>, because we’re both turning up and being us, rather than turning up and going, this is who I think I should be when I’m in LinkedIn.

Speaker 1 (17:50):

Do you think effective leaders have more self-awareness than ineffective leaders?

Speaker 2 (17:56):

I would say so

Speaker 1 (17:57):

What example do you have? I guess the, you you, you’ve worked in the world of work for many years. Have you had any examples where you’ve seen that effective leadership, effective leadership and that Yeah. I mean,

Speaker 2 (18:11):

Coaching client, you know, last year where came with a problem and I hadn’t appreciated the impact their behavior was having on the problem Yeah. And, and was causing the problem. It’s like, oh my God, that is why they are reacting to me like that. That’s why I’m not getting the best out of them because I’m not communicating effectively to them. You know, half of what he was saying was in his head and he was assuming that they understood what he meant. Right. they were just observing his behavior and therefore, well, actually making a whole host of judgments about what the, the few words he was saying, plus behavior. And we’re making a whole load of judgments. Once, once that self-awareness increased because I was able to help him look at his own behavior and go, so how, if you were at the receiving end of that behavior, how would you, you know, where would your head go?

Speaker 2 (19:10):

And then for work with, oh, okay, so this, so this is how I could behave differently that would facilitate a different reaction from the other person. And so in on a couple of occasions in both instances, he actually went and spoke to the other people involved to say, look, this is what I think’s going on. Can we have a conversation? And, and in both instances came up with very different action plans based on an, on a awareness that he had. Yeah. About, oh, it’s, it’s me. It’s how I, I’m seeing the world, how I’m going about the world. People are misinterpreting.

Speaker 1 (19:51):

That is really exciting to hear because one of the things that I picked up from my research was that for me, self-awareness has got three layers. So it’s internal self-awareness, internal social self-awareness, and external social self-awareness. Oh. And they are reflection, recognition, and then that outer layer of responding. And you’ve just absolutely described it in practice. It’s that I get me, I get what people think of me, and if I change how I behave and I communicate, I change the response to me and change the response to the problem and the action plan or whatever goes with it. And it absolutely, that is all about self-awareness.

Speaker 2 (20:34):

Yeah. There’s the one of the presuppositions of neurolinguistic programming is the res the meaning of the communication is the response that you get. And that’s hard because it’s the, you know, they’re misunderstanding you because you are not communicating in a way that they understand it’s not their problem. They’re not awkward, they’re not resistant. You are just not communicating in a way that has yet motivated them.

Speaker 1 (21:02):

Communication is in the eye of the beholder.

Speaker 2 (21:04):


Speaker 1 (21:05):

Definitely. Alison, it’s been absolutely brilliant talking to you. Really, really interesting conversation. Thank you so much for joining me today. You mentioned you had a podcast. Do you wanna give a shout out to your podcast?

Speaker 2 (21:17):

Oh, that will be lovely. Absolutely Landscaping your life. So you’ll find me here, there and everywhere. Landscaping your life or find the book, even though the books can’t see the wood for the trees, it’s can’t see the wood for the trees. Landscaping your life. So if you do landscaping your life on any of the book stockies, you’ll find it quicker actually than, can’t see the wood for the trees and yeah. On any podcast. Can’t see the wood for the trees will find yeah, you’ll find me.

Speaker 1 (21:42):

Wonderful. Thank you very much. I’ll certainly be chiming in. And I hope listeners will be as well. Alison, thank you once again. It’s been great.

Speaker 2 (21:50):

Thanks Nia.

Speaker 1 (21:56):

Thank you for joining me, your host Nia Thomas at the Knowing Self, knowing Others podcast. If you’d like to know more about self-awareness, leader effectiveness, and leadership at all levels, please take a look at my website, knowing Self, knowing Others dot Code uk, you can also join me on YouTube, LinkedIn or Twitter. Make sure you bookmark the Knowing Self, knowing Others Podcast and tune into the next step sold in two weeks time. I look forward to having you on my learning journey.

Speaker 1 (22:26):

If you’d like to join me as a guest on the Knowing Self, knowing Others podcast, please drop me a line at If you’d like to advertise your podcast book or company connected to Self-Awareness, leader Effectiveness, or Leadership at all Levels, please drop me a line at the same email. Please remember to bookmark the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast so that you can keep up to date with all new episodes. Remember to rate this podcast in whichever directory you listen. Knowing Self, knowing Others is available to Listen On Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music Podcast Index Podcast Addict Podcast, chaser Pockets Visa listeners play right cast.