In this interview with Jane Gunn and Kriss Akabussi (International Athlete, Professional Speaker and Business Consultant), Jane and Kriss discuss ‘winning’.
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Hello this is Jane Gunn, the Corporate Peacemaker and this Podcast is about how we can each use the skills and tools of mediation and conflict resolution to help resolve conflicts and disputes at work and at home. I’m speaking today to Kriss Akabusi International world champion, European champion, Olympic medallist, professional speaker and business consultant. So if there’s a man who knows what it feels like to win its Kriss.
J: Hello Kriss and welcome.
K: Hey, Hi Jane how are you?
J: Yeah I’m good and you?
K: I’m doing brilliant, I’m looking forward to the next few minutes of speaking to you.
J: Yeah we’re going to have fun.
K: You bet you.
J: So tell me Kriss what it feels like to win at the level that you have?
K: It’s a fantastic experience really, to set yourself a real high goal, to commit to that goal to collaborate with other people in order to achieve that goal. To constantly do day in day out, all the things required to achieve that goal and then to be there in the moment when the multiples of thousands are there to witness you cross that line, and the laurels are hit upon you to say well done.
J: So what, when you talk about winning in that sense Kriss, what is it that it gives to you personally?
K: I think that as a sportsman the thing that, towards the end of my career was this recognition that was its own reward. The international recognition that I was an expert in my field. Athletics is sort of black and white, there are few things in life that are black and white but sports is one of them. When you cross a line first it’s very objective, no one thinks ‘oh well I think he was first’ you’re first because you crossed that line in a time quicker or you’ve jumped higher or thrown further than everyone else in that field, on that day. So the recognition from your peers, from the recognition from the multiple bodies that are outside of your work, your world, but who recognise your expertise. That recognition that you are an expert in your own right is a phenomenal, phenomenal experience, and that meant so much to me because you are dedicated to your profession just like many people are around the world. Just like listening to this podcast now, you are dedicated to your profession. But you know dedication is not enough and there are those who are dedicated who work very hard, who’ve got a goal, who’ve developed a plan, who are consistently working towards the plan, who don’t get that moment where publicly declared, that you have achieved. And to be one of the few people who have gone to the highest place in my profession; the Olympic arena, to have come away not just to call yourself an Olympian but to call yourself an Olympic medallist is an phenomenal experience.
J: So Kriss, what do you think at that level is the motivator that drives you to win at that level, and to keep on doing the things that you have to do. The hard training in the wee small hours in the dark and the cold? Is it about power? Is it about self-esteem sometimes?
K: I suspect it can be elements of that. I think when you’re an athlete self-serving, and selfish pursuit because everything and everybody in your life is subordinated to this one goal of you showing yourself that you’re the best in the world, or best in Europe or in your nation at what you do. Everything is subordinated to that, so that of course can give you an grandiose idea of who you are, that does not mean that you are not humble or grateful for everybody else’s involvement in it but of course it’s very difficult when everything is geared around you not to have that sense of ultimate power in what you are doing and what’s the other term you used? You used another term.
J: I talked about self-esteem, is it something that…
K: Well yes I think it’s that, and there are lots of other sports and this is something to be aware of. Lots of sports men have their whole self-esteem wrapped up in that achievement and that can be dangerous, and of course one of the beauties of sport is that you compete against other people. In fact if there were not other people to compete against sport would be meaningless. You can only be great because you are in an arena with other great champions, all competing for the prize of one. If your whole self-esteem is wrapped around you being number one then often there are more opportunities for your self-esteem to be kicked and ego to be dented than for you to be lifted. That is a very pertinent point; you have to be able to keep things in perspective and have, what I call, a small key forms indicator: small steps along the way that would assure you that you are actually going in the right direction. Personal bests quite clearly are one of those.
J: And do you think, I mean if you look back at, I mean one of the things I think about and talk about is that sometimes you need or we need in order to be able to win in our lives, is memories of past challenges that we’ve won and also remembering times that we’ve lost, because there must be times in the past Kriss when you haven’t won a race but you still pick yourself up and carry on, and think you know I’m going to go for it next time, you know it’s not all about winning it’s about losing as well and both of those things spurring you into action.
K: Yeah I mean there’s a great book I’ve read subsequent to my athletic career called “Necessary Losses”, and the woman is called Judith Viorst, and she talks about the maturation process and how that life is a journey through a series of necessary losses you know when a child is born and it loses the warmth of the mother’s womb and that’s a necessary loss to come into this world. Others a time when, when a child goes from the comfort of a mother or parents’ home into school and that’s a necessary loss of that safety and security of that home environment where everything is done for you and you are the centre of somebody’s universe, and you go on and on and there are necessary losses; when you leave school, when you lose your first job, when you get your first boyfriend and you know when you lose your virginity and then you get to a sense when you’ve had your child and you lose your independence and then ultimately the last necessary loss, is the loss of your life we all know that so far for everyone that’s been born there is always someone who has exited and so it shall be and sport is the same. There are lessons to be learned from those losses and if you hear sports people speaking when they lose, you will hear them say but I have picked up the positives from that moment and you will be au fait that every cloud has a silver lining and it’s appropriate for this idea that you will have losses, in fact in sport you cannot progress without having losses. Let me give you an example Jane, even at my tender age of 52 I can guarantee I can win races all I’ve got to do is go down to kinder garden, line up all the three, four and five year olds race them and I will win, but of course if I really want to progress and show my medal I really have to be prepared to move up a notch, and by move up a notch there is that opportunity to lose and in losing you learn more about yourself more about the environment more about the profession and then you step up. That’s what happens to get to becoming a world champion. I had many many losses along the way so every cloud has a silver lining and you have to dare to lose in order to win
J: What do you think all of this teaches us about conflict, because that’s my world Kriss and one of the things I’m helping people come to terms with is their desperate need to win an argument or dispute so it’s winning in a different arena when sometimes winning isn’t all that matters and I wonder if sometimes the lessons we learn about winning and losing along the way send us in search of a grander, more collaborative vision
K: I think Jane where you’re going with that is that also comes with maturity I mean some people are born with the ability to step outside themselves and empathise with the person they are discussing with, and have a collaborative approach and come to a consensorial position and I, by my nature am not one of them. I don’t know why Jane by I can be combative and I can feel that I’m in a discussion and I’ve got to win, I’ve got to win I’ve got to win the argument. I’m getting better as I’ve aged with maturity but I can still think of many many scenarios in my past where I’ve had to win the argument and I felt that in losing the argument, it was taking away and detracting from me as a person and my own personal ego was being pulled apart, just because you did not agree with my point of view I’m learning in life, you can disagree with me Jane, you and I can have a very heated debate about something and yet you and I can still be friendly because we respect you as a person, and me as a person because of the experience that I’ve had but that comes through what I call an episodic life and understanding that you don’t need to win all the time.
J: So when we were talking earlier Kriss you talked about a couple of things, you talked about your time in the army and what that had taught you about rules of conflict and you also talked yourself as a parent and what that had taught you.
K: In the army there is a hierarchal system and you are either being given instructions or you’re giving instructions. So when I’m being given instructions I’m collaborative by its very nature because there is a whole massive infrastructure assisted around that there is going to delegate responsibility and delegate information but as a parent, as a father and I’m a bit traditional and again I apologise for those who are a bit more libertine in their parenting skills, but the ultimate authority power existed in me and of course when you’re growing up your children and you are nurturing your children when they are very very young it is easier to exert your power and will but as they get older you can educate them and I always say to my girls that the only thing that I can give to you that no one can take away is your education. When you educate them all of a sudden they have opinions too and it’s really hard to come to terms with the fact that my adult children; one 26 and one 23, sometimes disagree with the old man and I’ve got to be able to and you’ve got to come back and you’ve to be able to sometime have a consensus of opinion, or agree to disagree or collaborate a way around the way to move forward and as I say that’s a maturation process that’s come through the experiences over the time and if you educate your children there will come a time when they will confront your opinion, and what it means is in my family we’d have these arguments about stuff and Papa would be very very forceful in his opinion and not being, and I’m getting better but not being very good at saying ‘ah I was wrong’ because that would mean I’d feel that I’ve lost. I mean I wouldn’t apologise but what would happen two three weeks down the road when I had time to ruminate over what was being said I might come to the decision to do what the girls or my wife had suggested all along.
J: But its a secret, Kriss it’s interesting that you say that education is the one thing we can give our children there’s an other thing I think that we can give our children and that’s unconditional love and I say that because and actually that applies in all conflict and its difficult thing to do sometimes and one of the key things that we say in conflict we say to do is to separate the person and you said we could have an argument and still stay friends and in a sense that’s what you’re doing you’re saying it’s not about you if I disagree with you it’s about the subject that were disagreeing about and I can still like you or love my children, that’s unconditional there are no conditions that I have to win the argument to stay friends with you or stay in a relationship with my family and that’s a key aspect in dispute resolution for me.
K: I can see where you’re coming from, and I can agree I just understand that you know when we can, rationally what you’re saying makes sense but when you’re in the middle of a debate or a conflict when you’re not thinking rationally, when everything is about your emotions and feelings and your ego being compressed or your feeling attacked or wanted to be defensive it’s hard to understand that that person loves me and the issues is about the message or the subject, not me.
J: I think what you describe very clearly is to me is a very instinctive response to conflict and instinctive desire to win, and that’s something that I acknowledge is present in every single one of us because it’s part of our survival instinct and the more that that’s been enhanced by what we’ve experienced particularly in our early life the stronger that drive is in each of us and then the harder it is to understand in circumstances that we need to collaborate how do I do that how do I express unconditional love how do I suppress that overriding desire to beat that person because it’s in our best interest of our relationship to do that.
K: Yeah fantastic Jane and that point about our early experiences of when you’re young is so vital, because sometimes we are trapped in the juvenile mind you know if you’re like me, I mean I was brought up in a children’s home and you’ve got to fight for your opinion as a kid in a children’s home, I mean if you’re nambey pambey you could easily be walked on by other children, I mean you’ve got to fight for your rights
J: it is survival isn’t is
K: it is survival, I mean you end up arguing and arguing forcibly in order to have the right to be heard and a right to be accepted into the tribal minds, well that was okay when I was in the children’s home 8-16 but now in a world where I’m meeting with people like yourself in corporate infrastructures and high level consultants, it’s now appropriate to be fighting for the right to be heard and there are different ways to lay your voice into the arena and to develop a consistent and coherent argument a system of intellectual thought and then have your anything take it or leave it that’s fine and to go ahead and have unconditional love for one another in a family or the equivalent in a business context
J: So what would you say Kriss would be your greatest motivator or your greatest role model in moving you from that sort of instinctive fight or flight response, to people that you might come into disagreement with and how you now try and react in those kind of situations?
K: Well in the business arena my greatest motivator is that you never win a fight with a client, I mean you might win the battle but you certainly won’t win the war
J: That’s a good phrase isn’t is
K: Yeah absolutely, you know my business does not exist without the clients, so I have to be able to discuss with clients in a manner that allows them to leave the discussion, whether they book me or not but leave the discussion feeling whole and prepared to recommend me to someone else who can afford my fees or will appreciate my services or come back to the table at a time when they are in the position that they can afford my fees, or when they do appreciate my services. So all the time I’m aware when I’m speaking to a client that this isn’t the only opportunity and they are going to leave this meeting with an impression of you and they can be your raving fans or they can be your worst enemy, choose who you want to have then act appropriately.
J: So if you were to summarise or to give one sort of key thought to listeners today or one key tip what would it be?
K: My tip would be: you were born with two ears and one mouth engage the brain and act in ratio and accordingly.
J: So in other words we need to listen more than we speak?
K: Correct. Listen more that you think, sorry listen more than you speak and engage the brain before doing either.
J: That’s very interesting and you know that one of the things that I also teach people is that we don’t think logically when we’re in a conflict and we need to engage the brain and allow it to rationalise what’s happening to you.
K: Absolutely, that’s why Jane I would always go to someone like yourself if I ever had a major conflict with a client because I know you will engage your brain before I put in my mouth.
J: Well there’s a good summary of what I do. Well Kriss it’s been such a pleasure talking to you this morning, I know we could go on speaking for a lot longer but I am conscious of your time but thank you very much it’s been a pleasure.
K: Thank you very much Jane, very very professional interview and I look forward to listening to more of your series.
J: Thank you bye bye