How your attitude keeps the mice away

How your attitude enables you to gain people’s trust and build meaningful and productive relationships with your colleagues.

Are you driven by mice?

According to the spy folklore of the Cold War someone would consider to share information with you if one or more of the following criteria were met: Money, Ideology, Conscience, and Ego – MICE.

Probably some people are suggestible when the circumstances are right and may be influenced by money, political views, their sense of right and wrong or appeals to their pride.

But is this really the case in normal professional situations? Well, it is ascertainable now and then, that’s certainly true.

Nevertheless, we beg to differ and offer an alternative for this pretty basic view of human nature and what we actually strive for.

We say there is a way to influence people that gives them what they want, allows you to work with people from a basis of mutual trust, and accomplish what you need.

Would you like to know what this is?

Build a better mousetrap

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door, as the American philosopher Emerson is purported to have said.[1]

Well, people indeed will ‘beat a path to your door’ if you give them what

Aspire to

This ‘trap’ is easy to build, and holds high attractiveness. You ‘bait’ it with something people really want, and claim they miss in their professional life.

What professionals miss in their work

Most professionals are under the pressure of the need perform at a very high level permanently. They have the feeling they are in constant competition with their fellow professionals to be the best, the fastest, the most productive. And they often have to perform in an environment that is dominated by office politics, sales targets and implicit social (and gender) demands.

Add to this the other stresses of modern life and you understand that people don’t easily find what they actually look for in their work. They do not receive what they really aspire to possess.

What is that they really aspire to possess?

A meaningful existence

Research done in the UK and the USA during 2015 showed that close to 40% of professionals thought their jobs didn’t make any meaningful contribution. Over 80% of the senior physicians reported that they aim to retire early due to lack of fulfillment. And even 66% of nurses claimed they would quit if they could.[2]

You could add what is lacking

You could give these people what they want, make their day, and build a relationship based on trust. The thing these professionals miss most is a meaningful connection with the output of their work, and with other people. We feel safe when it is there, and feel insecure when it is gone. Connection is precisely what you could give to people.

Make their day and gain their trust

There’s a lot of research done in the neurosciences, about emotions, the sense of safety and the actual social situation people are in. This indicates that once people have a connection with each other, they tend to relax. They are more open, and let go of some of their defenses.

We just feel better when we become aware of a safe relationship with a connection to another person. This makes evolutionary sense, but it also makes sense socially, psychologically, and emotionally.

Connection allows people to have meaningful interactions with each other, and because they are more relaxed, they tend to be happier and more productive.

How to build your trap

It is up to you to make this specifically applicable, but with some easy guidelines it’s easily done and you will experience the advantages immediately. All it requires is a little preparation.

Just prepare a little. First think about how you would like others to behave towards you. Many years in coaching and consulting has shown us that most people actually would like someone to be reliable, courteous, fair, and to show generosity, care, empathy, and a basic flexibility. In short, they like your attitude to be based on your willingness to make a connection.

Perhaps this is pretty obvious. Then again people report they don’t encounter it that often professionally, and that if they do it is meaningful to them.

You could be the one who makes the connection and allows people to relax. Both your professional lives will become more meaningful, and more productive, as a result of you giving people what they really aspire to possess.

You can check your approach and refine it easily by booking a coaching conversation with us. We guarantee you will be able to build a ‘trap’ that is meaningful to the people you meet and meaningful for yourself, as well as productive for your own professional life. We also have developed an easy to use checklist to discover what people really want, and how your attitude matches this. It’s yours for free if you ask us for it.

© Rudi de Graaf en Iris Dorreboom

[1] He might and he might not have said it. At any rate, it’s not in his published works.

[2] See: The Guardian 23th Nov 2017, From inboxing to thought showers.

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A magic mirror to improve your people skills

In this post we’ll show you a surprising way to improve your people skills, while also learning something about yourself.

Suppose you could ask a ‘magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?’

And what if you were told the truth, and you could use it to improve your self-image and become more adequate in your relations with other people?

You could, that is: if you accept Carl Jung’s[1] proposition. He proposes that when you look at what someone else’s attitude means to you, this usually reveals what you secretly think about your own attitude.

It is confrontational, but it may also be insightful to look into this mirror that other people can be for you. It teaches you something valuable about yourself, and helps you to add value to others.

How does this help you develop your people skills?

When you look into the ‘mirror’ of other people you like or approve of, there’s nothing to see that needs developing. Usually, your people skills work just fine when you deal with people you like, or whose attitude you approve of.

It’s usually more difficult and you need to pay attention to your people skills only when people have an attitude you don’t like or don’t approve of.

That’s exactly the moment you can use these people as a mirror. This enables you to ‘magically’ learn something about yourself, and also improve your skills in working with people with an attitude you don’t like. How?

We propose that you use Carl Jung’s idea to see what this says about yourself, turn this around, and give to other people what you need from them.

Let’s see how this would work in practice

Let’s say you experience some negativity in your dealings with other people. Their attitude may hurt you, annoy you or even make you angry. Perhaps there is even a valid reason to feel this way.

It’s fair to assume the major thing about these peoples’ attitude is that they don’t do something you think they should do. You miss something, something that would be the most natural thing for you to do in these circumstances.

Now a flattering magic mirror would tell you that it’s all due to the other persons’ character faults. Not yours, you are of course ‘the fairest one of all.’ It’s the other person whose attitude needs to change!

This doesn’t help us to explore our own involvement in the situation and take responsibility for adaptation and amelioration.

What you need is a magic mirror that tells you the truth, but also helps you to see a way to change that inspires you, fits in with who you are, and shows you a way to easy application. How would this work?

What is your response?

You look into the ‘mirror’ of the other person’s attitude. You notice you miss something. What should your response be? Tell the other person to change? That is of course what we are often tempted to do. But is that effective? Usually not, you have to admit.

An effective response has to be based on a straightforward recognition of the way the world actually is, and not on how you need the world to be. This should be at the core of your response.

People are the way they are, and they usually don’t change because you ask them to. But what would happen if you saw these people as a mirror of your own attitude? Then the following could happen.

Add yourself what you miss in other people’s attitude

What you miss in the attitude of others, Jung proposes, you didn’t add.

So what do you experience as a downside while dealing with other people? The answer will expose what you could and perhaps even should reconsider about your own attitude, approach, and actions towards other people.

Remember that in this blog we operate from the viewpoint that other people function as our mirror. In this regard, what you would like other people to do to you, could point you to what you could easily give to other people.

Let’s say you are a friendly person, who likes others to be friendly as well. When others aren’t friendly, our suggestion would be to respond in a friendly manner, with the care and consideration you think of as showing friendliness.

Use the ‘mirror’ to add value

You will notice, perhaps even during the interaction or soon after, that you have acted in line with who you are, in accordance with your values and often also serving your goal.

You have created value for yourself, but in the process you have also created value for the other person in a way that is important to you.

Only when you have done this first, does it make sense to ask ‘the magic mirror’ a question and get proper feedback.

People will perhaps not change their attitude immediately, but you will notice that you have changed your own attitude towards them. Sooner or later this will have its effect. You have learned something about yourself, and improved your people skills into the bargain.

A magic mirror that shows you the truth

Perhaps you will not always be ‘the fairest’ when you look into your magic mirror, and people will still not always show an attitude towards you that you like.

But at least you are true to who you are, what you value, and what you want. There can’t be any other way leading towards your goal.

Be who you are, it’s good enough to present to others. The chance is good other people will present themselves as they are towards you. Why? You were their mirror too. So present your true self.

© Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

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[1] Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist, founder of analytic psychology, who is best known today for his ideas about introversion and extraversion, the collective unconscious and synchronicity. Look at this Wikipedia article for more information: Carl Jung


How to practice effective emotional self-control

Do your emotions run away with you?

To many people, difficult emotions like anger or anxiety often feel as if they have a will of their own. They can get out of hand and take over from your usual rational self.

In the case of for instance anger, the emotion often appears to happen suddenly. So suddenly that it becomes difficult to control the intensity of the emotion, and you behave inappropriately.

With anxiety, the emotion crops up whenever you are confronted with the situation or person that triggers the anxiety. The result can be paralyzing. Even when it doesn’t go that far, at the least it hurts your effectiveness.

In work situations, an inability to manage distressing emotions can have a major negative impact, ranging from embarrassment, damaged work relations, to underperformance and ineffectiveness.

It seems sensible to look at how you can rein these runaway emotions in, and learn to manage them when they crop up. The easiest way to do so is to look at what happens when we experience emotions.

Managing distressing emotions

Strong emotions, despite appearances, are of course not uncontrollable backlashes to circumstances that are hardwired physically. They just assault your mind as a consequence of how you define what something means.

Emotions are usually the product of a particular moment, and certain specific circumstances. Take someone else in the same situation or you in a different one, and the same emotion won’t happen.

This implies you have much greater influence and even positive control over your difficult emotions than you might think. To get a grip on your emotions and acquire a positive approach to dealing with the difficult ones, you just need to know what happens when you feel an emotion.

What happens??

To learn to manage your emotions, you need to know how your emotions come into being. Any emotion, not just a difficult one or a seemingly uncontrollable one, basically emerges in a similar way. The following is an approximate description of the process.

  1. Interpret emotions as a state of feeling.
  2. These feelings are mainly responses to something that happens, either literally at that moment, or as a thought in your mind. This ‘what happens’ is the trigger.
  3. The response to the trigger (in fact, why it acts as a trigger at all…) is driven by the meaning you give to what happens.
  4. The meaning you give to ‘what happens’ influences the feeling you experience, and also the strength of feeling you experience.
  5. Stronger emotions reduce the degree in which you are able to take spontaneous positive and effective action.

The process of trigger, response and emotions of course isn’t such a clear-cut sequence of 100% cause and effect. Yet this description comes close enough to reality to make it workable in practicing emotional self-control. In order to get a grip on your emotions, you have to remember first of all that they are the product of how you give meaning to the situation.

How to practice emotional self-control

Strong negative emotions of anger, anxiety or grief will happen to you. They are part of life.

The question is: how do you deal with them? How do you catch the meaning you give to something and turn it around in time to be able to manage the emotion?

Here is a rational process to learn to practice emotional self-control.

Step 1: Catch yourself

  1. The first step is to catch yourself before it’s too late. As you know when you’ve ever experienced out-of-control emotions, that’s not as easy as it sounds. However, it’s possible. It takes practice, though, and a willingness to pay attention.

Most people have one or two emotions that are stronger than others. Think back to earlier situations where you experienced difficulty in controlling that particular emotion. See if you can remember ‘early warning signals’, such as for instance recurring negative thoughts about a particular person or situation, churning stomach, inability to pay attention to other people or the situation, etc.

It’s also a good idea to think about what would trigger you theoretically to get angry, anxious or sad. This tells you something about potential triggers.

Learning to pay attention to these signals and acting on them (see the following steps) is the first and arguably the most important step in practicing emotional self-control. Once you have a fairly good idea of your triggers, you need not get out of control at all.

Step 2: Give yourself some air

When you detect signals in your early warning system, do something to vent the upcoming emotion. Talk to friends, take a walk, do a work-out, do some breathing, … It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you do something to relax your body. You mind will usually follow.

Of course it’s very important to do this in an appropriate manner, at an appropriate time and place, and with the appropriate people. That’s the whole point, after all.

Step 3: Reinterpret the situation

We posited that the way you give meaning to the situation triggers the emotion and the intensity of the emotion. It stands to reason that in order to manage your emotions, you have to do something about the way you give meaning.

We do not advocate for you to change the way you interpret the situation in a positive way. When you are angry, you are angry for a reason that is valid to you at that moment. When you are anxious, it usually doesn’t help to tell yourself you are not.

What you can do, however, is to reinterpret the situation. You have to find a reason to accept and deal with the situation in an appropriate manner. You do this by looking at what is more or even most important to you.

What is really important to me here?

What is most important to your identity identifies always where you find a reason to react differently. You will see the meaning shift when you look at your most important values, or your most important interests at the moments when you would usually be triggered to react in a certain way.

When you know what you deem positive enough to trump the negative, this allows you to control your emotions and follow that positive impulse. The effect of difficult emotions will decrease and rational inquiry about what happens will increase.

Following these steps is not sure-fire – it won’t work always. But it will certainly help you to practice emotional self-control in many situations when you need it. 

© Iris Dorreboom and Rudi de Graaf

One coaching conversation about this emotional self-management skill can give you insight in your triggers and ways that are easily open to you to practice emotional self-control. Please look at our coaching offer, or…

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