Tips and tricks for better fish!

Writing fish small


Two weeks ago I already told you about my favourite technique to give positive feedback. If you need a little reminder, you can read that blog here.

I don’t know how much you’ve practiced so far but you might have encountered some of the issues below so… I figured that I’d address them one by one …

You’re still feeling some resistance
Well, I totally get it. Every year I tell this story in my trainings to hundreds of people. Most of them are a bit sceptical (to say the least!). Sighs, rolling eyes, I see it all! Until they read the fish that they received from their fellow-participants… That’s the moment many of them change their mind…

Practice makes perfect
Some of my courses take longer: several modules over several months. Usually I explain the technique during module 1 and then they get to try it out. During module 2, there is a second round. Often I notice that it gets easier for most people. It’s something you can learn. You get better in observing and stating certain behaviour. It becomes more natural.

You’re making it harder than it is
You want to say something ‘deep’, you find it difficult and therefore… you don’t say anything… When it comes to fish, you really want to keep it simple. You want to be as specific as possible. Somebody said something, did something and… for one reason or another, you liked it! And you want to share that.

You’re too general
This one is a bit linked to the previous one. You say something like: “I’ve noticed you are very friendly”. That is too general. What is it exactly that this person does that makes you say he/she is friendly? Did he smile at you? Did he ask if you were feeling ok? Be precise!

You can’t find anything positive to say about this person
He or she has probably been getting on your nerves for a while. And that’s why you can now only see the negative. As a first step, you might want to accept that there are some things that are bothering you (no point in denying that…) AND , at the same time, actively look for something positive. The smallest thing will do. Your other colleagues seem to like him… What do they see in him? It’s worth a try and in the end you’ll win too: as long as he gets on your nerves, you experience stress… Focussing on positive things = less stress!

You are worried that, if you give too many fish, the person will stop doing his best
Maybe he’ll get arrogant? In my experience, this is not the case. People like to be appreciated for what they do. The (working)relationship will improve and … giving fish does mean that you are no longer allowed to give (constructive!) negative feedback … In my view, there is room for both!

You are only giving fish when you need something
In that case I’m afraid you didn’t really get it… At that moment you are using it to ‘manipulate’… And don’t worry: people will pick up on it. Fish are supposed to be honest, if not they start to look like piranhas or jelly fish…

So… just get into the habit of giving more fish. At first you might have to plan for it (eg. ‘I will give one fish a day’ or ‘Today I really want to give on to x’). And you’ll see: after a while it becomes easier, fish come spontaneously and … both you and the receiver will have a lot of fun!

If you have any other tips to make this practice easier, please share below!

Good luck!

If you liked the above, you can sign up for more Tips & Tricks here. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Everybody likes a fish


10 years ago I attended a ‘train –the –trainer’ programme. On day 1, the trainer told us the ‘Parable of the Porpoise’. This story turned the 3 weeks into an unforgettable experience. Having lived that experience, turned me into a ‘believer’. And since then, I just have to share it with everybody I meet.

The ‘Parable of the Porpoise’ is originally from Gregory Bateson. Please find the short version below, in my own words.

The parable of the porpoise explains how dolphins learn. (By the way: a porpoise is a type of dolphin).
Everybody has probably seen a dolphin show, live or on television. Often, there are two ‘pools’: the ‘show’ pool and the ‘living’ pool, where the dolphins go after the show is over.
Whenever a dolphin goes to the ‘show’ pool for the first time, the trainer doesn’t tell it what to do. He just observes. Whenever the dolphin does something that could be seen as a trick (eg: it does something with its tail), the trainer does 2 things: he blows his whistle and gives the dolphin a fish. The dolphin is happy but doesn’t really understand why it got the fish. However, when he does the ‘tail thing’ again, the trainer does the same thing: he blows his whistle and gives the dolphin a fish. Now the dolphin gets it. For the rest of that session it will be rewarded whenever it does the ‘tail thing’.
When the next session starts, the dolphin enthusiastically does the ‘tail thing’ but… nothing happens. ‘Maybe the trainer didn’t see it’, the dolphin thinks and it tries again, this time right in front of the trainer. Nothing… The dolphin gives up and swims away… A little bit later, the dolphin happens to do something else: it jumps. The trainer blows his whistle and gives a fish. And the dolphin understands it’s being rewarded for the new behaviour.
To cut a long story short, this happens 14 times. Each time the dolphin comes back to the ‘show’ pool, it will do the trick from last time and it will be disappointed when it is not being rewarded. Every once in a while the trainer will give a fish (without the whistle) to keep the dolphin happy. The 15th time, however, something happens: it’s as if the dolphin ‘got’ it. When it comes into the ‘show’ pool, it does 8 things it has never done before, 4 of which were never done by a dolphin! And this is where the ‘parable’ ends.

After telling us the story, our trainer said that this was a metaphor for positive feedback. And… that during our programme, the only type of feedback we would give and get would be … positive. After every exercise, we were supposed to give each other a ‘fish’. A ‘fish’ was a little piece of paper with 2 names and 2 (half) sentences.

Dear X (name of the person the fish was meant for)
I’ve noticed that ___________________________ (specific behaviour of X)
I like(d) it because ________________________ (effect of behaviour on Y)
Name Y (=observer) (No anonymous fish!)

Further instructions were: you should always be able to find a fish and… you had to be honest!

I can assure you there was quite some resistance in the room. ‘What? Only positive feedback? How will I know what I do wrong?’
I have to admit I wasn’t completely convinced myself. I was totally in favour of positive feedback but… in combination with negative feedback. Unfortunately, only fish were allowed…

Let me give you an example:
Imagine: 4 people are doing an excercise together and 3 of them have to write a fish for the 4th one: John.

Fish 1:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you have good eye contact.
I like it because I felt spoken to personally.
Person 1 

Fish 2:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you have good eye-contact.
I like it because it helped me to stay focussed.
Person 2 

Fish 3:
Dear John,
I’ve noticed you gave good examples.
I liked it because it helped me to understand the theory better.
Person 3.

As you can see, it’s possible for 2 people to observe the same behaviour, which can have a different effect on them.

You’ll be curious to find out what happened during our course. Well, we only received positive feedback and still improved! How? Let’s go back to the example given above: suppose I am not so good at keeping eye contact. But… now that I’ve experienced the effect of it, I’m more likely to pay attention to it in the future! I will also pay attention to using good examples, etc…

So we were both getting better AND enjoying the lovely compliments… What more can you wish for?

Convinced? Give it a try. Next time I’ll come back with some practical tips on how you can use the fish in your daily life, both at home as in the office!

You can find the original version here: ‘The Parable of the Porpoise’

Good luck!

(Credits to Table19 Stock for the photo)

If you liked the above, you can sign up for more Tips & Tricks here. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Being grateful

Yesterday was the shortest day of the year and winter has officially started.

Most people are getting ready for the holidays, which can be a bit stressful. They might be buying presents for Christmas and New Year, fretting about what to cook, dreading sitting through yet another family dinner… Some will already be making a list of everything they want to achieve in 2015. How about you?

Just this once, I would like you to look back on 2014 and focus on everything you are grateful for: new friends you got to know or old ones that were there for you when you needed them, a wonderful trip, a job you love…

Sometimes we forget this, especially the small moments… And that is a shame. Because being grateful makes you a happier person. So… here’s a little practice you might want to try out: every night, before going to bed, think about 3 things you are grateful for. Take it seriously… don’t ‘automatically’ choose every day the same 3 (like: I’m grateful I’m healthy, I’m grateful for my family and I am grateful I have a job). Find 3 things you really ‘felt’ grateful for during that particular day. So… it is possible that ‘I’m grateful I’m healthy’ IS on your list, when you went to visit somebody in hospital, for instance. I am only saying it shouldn’t be your standard answer… I repeat, it can be very small things: I am grateful for the tip I got from my colleague: it’s going to make my life so much easier. Or… I’m grateful for that particular friend for taking the time to listen to me today. Or… when I was walking in the park this afternoon and saw that beautiful sunset, I felt really grateful. Try it out and you might even sleep better at night…


And for those who are visual and/or like an arts and crafts project: why not make a gratitude (or blessing) jar. You can take any jar, embellish it if you want by putting a nice ribbon on it, or painting it or… And then, whenever you feel particularly grateful for something, you write it on a little piece of paper, you fold it and you put it in the jar. Over the year you keep on filling the jar. And then there are different options. Whenever you feel particularly down, you open the jar and read some of the messages you put in. Notice what happens. Another option is to wait until the end of the year, go through them all at once and… count your blessings. Happy holidays!

If you liked the above, you can sign up for more Tips & Tricks here. Looking forward to hearing from you!