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TEDx speakers taught us that we’re only human, after all

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A thought-provoking series of talks on the theme of Human to Human Connection made for an inspiring event at TEDx Southampton at the Harbour Hotel. Tim Walker, MD of headline sponsor Aura Technology, talks about the lessons he took with him from the day.

We’re all familiar with the idea that we have different sides to our personalities, depending on where we are and who we’re talking to. Every business leader will be aware that their ‘work persona’ can be different to the one known by their family and friends.

The lines between business and personal have blurred a little over the experiences of the pandemic, as we’ve seen inside each other’s homes and had the shared experiences of isolation. As we return to in-person interaction we’ve realised the one thing that connects us is that we are all human – with all the strengths and flaws our humanity brings.

What if missing that connection holds us back in business? How can we embrace our personal capital to overcome adversity and champion our own growth and potential?

These were the questions TEDx Southampton sought to answer. Those of us fortunate to hear the speakers learned how exposing our more authentic side can help us all tap into the greatness that comes from being human.

Tim Walker (centre), with organisers Annelies James-Ryan and Lee Peck

Here are some of the lessons I took from the day.

Your most important relationship is with yourself

Several of the speakers returned to this theme – how can you lead others if you don’t have a strong connection with what makes you… yourself? Sometimes ambition or the trappings of success can get into the way of what really should be driving and motivating us. 

We shouldn’t measure our success in terms of status and material possessions. We should be defined by the opportunities we take and the positive choices we make. By having that strong, inward connection, we make better decisions for ourselves and other people, and are more resilient to cope with challenges.

Don’t fake it to make it

Closely linked with the lesson above is a topic covered by two speakers, Lou Banks and Chris Williams, who referred to the dangers of being ‘fake’. If we present a façade to the world, we dilute our genuine self.

Overcoming this can mean rewriting our ‘internal scripts’ – the way we talk to ourselves about ourselves. Accepting praise graciously without being self-deprecating, and sharing what we are trying to achieve with others without asking for their permission to do it, can shift that internal monologue. Instead of succumbing to ‘imposter syndrome’, we focus on what we truly can do, and then the image we outwardly present matches what we feel within.

Everything we do leaves a trace

The speaker Paul Kinkaid, who draws on experiences as a former Army Commando and Lieutenant Colonel, introduced the concept of ‘forensic leadership’. At the heart of this is the knowledge that everything we do leaves a trace.

In the same way that forensic experts can pick up seemingly invisible clues at a crime scene, the evidence of our decisions and actions remain. Paul talked about these traces being green or red – positive or negative – and the way their effects ripple out through a business and are passed down through the people in an organisation.

Being a leader who leaves green traces is about giving recognition to others, sharing honest feedback, and caring about the people you lead and interact with.

ACT – Ask, Challenge, Talk

The most moving moment of the day came from Russell Streeter, who told the story of his family’s experience after his baby daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia.

When their little girl became ill, her mother insisted on a blood test, even though the GP advised against it. Her decision to challenge the advice led to the diagnosis and treatment which gave the couple more precious years with their daughter.

From this heartbreaking human trauma came a valuable lesson – that we should ask for information, respectfully challenge it, and discuss how we feel about what we’re being told. Our ability to receive and interrogate information in this way can literally be life-changing – and is part of what makes us human. 

Communication helps us sink or swim

Two speakers provided compelling accounts of how their experiences at sea shaped their outlook on life. Johanna Hooper was aboard the Royal Navy ice patrol vessel HMS Endurance when it catastrophically flooded in the Antarctic in December 2008. Her thoughts centred on the human response to stress triggers, and working together in a crisis.

Dee Caffari, the only woman to sail non-stop around the world three times, made valuable points around the importance of non-verbal communication. This was reinforced at sea, when crew members’ faces were covered – something we can all relate to now. 

What I took from it was the importance of speaking face to face wherever possible, because so much of what is said is not spoken. It should make us think twice before sending an email to somebody sitting close to us – especially if that message contains something you wouldn’t say face to face. As a technology provider, I also thought about video calling, and how it helped us all stay connected during the pandemic in a way that audio calls or emails never could.

Some things will never change 

At Aura Technology we’re all about progress – how we can work better and smarter, communicating and collaborating to everybody’s benefit. But we never forget that people are at the heart of every organisation, and there are basic human principles that remain, however far society and technology progress.

At TEDx Southampton these were identified as social connectivity, health and wellbeing, our value systems, our quest for self-improvement and our need for security.

These will never change. We’re only human, after all.

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