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Setting Goals and Targets
(....Or how, when we lose sight of whose goals and targets we are setting and aiming for, our own or others', we experience disconnection and destructive responses to conflict........)

Alan Sharland

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Hi Everyone!

Welcome to Newsletter no.14 - March 2009

A particular welcome indeed to the large number of new subscribers this month - up 28% since last month!! I'm not sure of the reason.....but thank you for subscribing and I hope you enjoy what follows this month and future months.

My apologies that this newsletter is a little later in the month than I usually intend - I was working last weekend, when I would normally have produced it, training new mediators for Hillingdon Community Mediation where I work. It's also turned out to be one of the longest yet, so I hope you find it interesting and not boring. :-)

So, a little bit of news and then on to this month's observation from the world of Communication and Conflict....

President Obama

First of all, last month's newsletter about the effective communication practices of President Barack Obama was one of the featured articles on the website - an American website popular with conflict resolution practitioners across the world. Perhaps that's where you new subscribers came from!

Free e-book

Secondly, some of you who have visited the website recently will see that I am now offering a free e-book called Contemplations on Communication and Conflict - a little alliterative I know :-) - which is an archive of some of the early observations and anecdotes I have written for these newsletters, but now collected together in a free downloadable e-book, my aim being to make them more accessible than to have to scan through various web pages to read them.

This may be of particular interest to new subscribers but if some of you who have subscribed from 'the early days' liked what you read then hopefully the collection of the articles together in one place will also be of interest.

If you like what you read in the e-book.......or even if you don't! - one or two of the articles are a little controversial ...... then please feel free to pass it on to others to read.


Retweet this page to your Twitter followers:

And finally, on the 'news' front, I am now a Twit! For some of you who know me well this is not news, but for those of you who are hip and trendy in the world of the internet, you will know that I mean I am now on Twitter. I'm no expert but if you are interested in 'checking in' with people from time to time, either those you know, or those you are interested in, then sign up!

Byron Katie is on Twitter so I'm definitely 'following' her 'Tweets'. (Do I sound like I have all the lingo? - I'm trying hard to sound like I do but I'm really a beginner)

So, on to this month's theme of Goals and Targets......

Walk to Wellbeing

I've had a few encounters with the concept of goals and targets during the last few weeks. First of all I went to a 'Goal Setting' Walk Innovation day with my good friend Adam Shaw two Saturdays ago.

Quotation Corner:
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

John Lennon, "Beautiful Boy" - click for Youtube clip

Adam is a Health Consultant and has developed a great idea for helping people to gain insights into themselves through the medium of walking.

He tells it much better than me but the idea is that if you are left to walk freely while considering some aspect of your life, a lot of symbolic events occur during the walk that can give you insights into how you are dealing with that aspect of your life, whether successfully or otherwise.

For example, during my session I was walking with someone who, while we were walking was discussing her intended goals in relation to her career. We were walking across countryside and were approaching a road. At that point she stopped in order to decide if to cross the road or change direction. At the same time her discussion of the goal she had set herself changed direction and she set herself a different goal to replace the original one.

Originally the goal was to achieve an amount of money, but at that point it changed to be the achievement of a number of people on a database of potential clients for her new business. It was as if she had come to a cross roads, or perhaps a fork in the road and she had to decide which path to take, stay on the one she was on, or take a different one.

Adam has experienced other such symbolic occurrences on walks with a theme, and it is this that has led him to set up Walk Innovation and Wellbeing Innovation to support people in achieving their goals and to find wellbeing in their lives.

A great quote on Adam's site is the following:

Do or do not. There is no try.

Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back

I like the quote because for me it's sort of saying, whether you have a goal or not, doing it is the only thing that matters and you either do or you don't. Whichever outcome the important thing is do we still accept ourselves without self-criticism afterwards.


Another discussion I had about goals or 'targets' was with Carole my colleague at work. She had heard a BBC Radio 4 programme about the use of 'targets' in industry and the public sector. Carole described a conversation on the programme in which it was said that targets are often seen as being so unachievable that, instead of motivating people to achieve them, they demotivate them because they are so unrealistic.

As Carole said, there was not a sense of ownership of the target and so people felt disempowered when the targets were not created in consultation with them but were just imposed.

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This obviously has direct relevance to the Principles of Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution that we don't volunteer others and that we speak only for ourselves and speak in the 'I'. It also has immense significance for Managers who set targets and goals, as well as Government Departments.

I'm often in two minds about the idea of goal setting. As a basic idea for an individual I can see the obvious benefits. If you don't know where you want to go, you will, of course end up going nowhere in particular.

For some people such a thought is their worst nightmare - to not be 'going somewhere' in life, for them, is tantamount to being dead.

For others however, the opportunity to go where life takes them and seek to enjoy every moment of it without judging themselves against where they 'should be' is to be in heaven.

And of course, each to their own.

But while such a statement is often flippant, I think in the case of goals it is highly relevant. I understand the usefulness of goals.........but there's nothing I like less than someone telling me I need to get my goals sorted and that if I don't have goals I will somehow not achieve my full potential.

Whose goals are they after all? How do they know what my 'full potential' is? Is my happiness only going to be possible after I have achieved my goals? Or can I just be happy now, whether I've achieved goals or not?

Some people are highly 'goal oriented' in their work life but are 'goalless' in their personal life. And vice versa. Few,if any of us are purely 'goal driven' or 'goal averse'. We can be different in different contexts.

Where goals and targets are just seen as a tool to assist in gaining focus towards completing a particular activity that we think we would like to do, and we retain ownership of how and when and whether we wish to pursue them, they are, in my view a useful and wonderful thing.

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Where goals and targets are considered to be essential for happiness and others believe they need to cajole and press us to set them and then to engage in them and achieve them, they start to risk giving birth to guilt and criticism, condescension and disempowerment. Others live vicariously through us by setting us their own goals rather than allow us to choose our own....or not.

And it is in these situations that conflict can easily escalate and become destructive. Because while 'goals and targets' is, perhaps the more common phrase to use, the expectation that others 'should' achieve certain aims, goals, targets, objectives, dreams, successes, ambitions, statii, rank - and all the other words used to represent goals and targets - is a common way in which communication practices do not follow the Principles discussed on the Communication and Conflict website and destructive conflict ensues.

Parents can have dreams and expectations for their children, employers can have objectives and career paths for their employees, partners can have aspirations for each other, children can have expectations of their parents, teachers of their pupils etc.

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Where such goals, targets, ambitions etc. are not created by the person expected to achieve the goals there is no ownership by them and those holding the expectation experience disappointment, disapproval, sometimes even a sense of shame and embarrassment. They may criticise, belittle and say things like 'You won't amount to anything....' - I used to see that a lot when I was a teacher, but I know it is something people hear from their parents, partners, 'friends' and others.

This, in turn, can lead to guilt for failing to 'live up' to these expectations, resentment for having them imposed etc. leading to disconnection from and avoidance of the 'goal setter'.

And so, whether we are the person seeking to achieve certain goals and targets or we are someone who either has formally been asked to support someone in setting and achieving goals (such as a lifecoach) or we are informally supporting someone in finding their way through life, the most important thing is to ensure we do this in a way which commits to ownership of any decisions remaining with the person we are supporting.

If we have any sense of despair, anger, shame, frustration, disappointment in the person if they do not set goals, or do not proceed to fulfill them, we have started to try to take ownership of something that is not ours - an individual's right to choose their own path, and their right to pass on pursuing a particular goal at any time they might wish to.

Separating our own goals from those of others

When we fix our own goals and targets, there is a risk that we assume others will fit in with our goals and achieve certain goals for themselves that our own goals depend on.

For example:

  • Parents who expect their child to achieve in ways they did not or could not.
  • Employers who expect an employee to take a certain career path, or, for example, expect a woman to not take time out to have children, but to 'focus on her career'.
  • Partners who expect their partner to stay at home and look after the children or to go out to work and bring home the money

In these situations and others people may be imposing goals and targets on others, through sticking rigidly to their own goals and targets, because they've been told 'you have to have goals in life.'

Co-dependency from unquestioned goal setting

One of my best friends was telling me the other day how hard it is to accept that the dream of finding a wife, who mutually agrees with and supports you, with whom you have children, and you live together in a nice house in harmony, has not worked out as he wanted.

The expectations of each other in a relationship often rely on the other person behaving a certain way, having certain goals that fit neatly with our own. These assumptions and volunteering of others often remain unquestioned and even when they are questioned, it can be easily assumed that the person will not change their goals and dreams - again leading to disappointment and frustration if they do.

Here's a quote from Kahlil Gibran's book The Prophet that expresses the differences between a healthy relationship and one that could be considered 'codependent' when he speaks of Marriage:

...But let there be spaces in your togetherness.
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your soles.
Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.


Goals and targets, where they are genuinely created by us and the decision to keep them or change them or simply to let them go remains with us, are a source of empowerment and motivation and inspiration.

Where goals are not ours but are imposed on us by others, and our attempts to abort them are obstructed through the use of criticism:

You won't amount to anything unless you get a purpose in life.

or emotional blackmail:

'I worked hard to pay for you to go to the best schools and now you tell me you want to be an artist. Well that's gratitude for you after all I've done for you.

...... they become a burden to carry and they create a wall between us and the goal-setter, often leading to greater efforts by them to impose the goal and greater avoidance by us to reduce the burden their goals impose on us. These destructive responses to the conflict by both sides can be seen at both personal and organisational levels.

A constructive response can come from self-acceptance and strong awareness of our right to pass on any goals others try to set for us through clarity of where ownership truly lies. This allows us to maintain connection with the person wanting to set goals for us. This is not easy, but it is the most effective response to the conflict that we can contribute to the situation, even if the other person continues to want to set goals for us.

Our awareness of our right to pass even in the face of others volunteering us, and our willingness to assert that, is the most effective response we can make.

Goals and Targets - the most important question is:

Who sets them, who owns them, who has the right to change them or abandon them?

If the answer to that question is not consistently the goal pursuer, a breakdown in communication and disconnection and a destructive conflict is almost certain to emerge.

And where this is so, both the goal setter and the person being volunteered have a part to play in responding constructively to this.

Are you a goal setter?

For yourself..........or for others?

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Besides being the author of the Communication and Conflict website Alan is Director of CAOS Conflict Management Tel. +44 20 3371 7507

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Recommended Books

Books by Cheri Huber - I was reminded of these books while writing this month's newsletter as they point to the fact that we can sometimes seek to achieve goals because we believe they will 'bring us happiness', but often when we get there, we don't find it and then think we need to chase other goals. Cheri's books point us inwards to see that happiness is found within, wherever we are, whatever goals we have achieved, or not.

1. There is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate, A Compassionate Process for Learning to Accept Yourself Exactly as You Are

2. That Which You are Seeking is Causing You to Seek On the back of this book it says the following: What we are looking for is causing us to look. That's why we need not to go anywhere, do anything, learn more, figure anything out or worry about going wrong. We need only to stop, sit down, be still and pay attention.

3. Be the Person You Want to Find: Relationship and Self-discovery Our clearest mirrors, and most difficult challenges, are often other people - those wonderful, nagging, kind, selfish, thoughtful, lazy, sweet, arrogant people. Becoming aware that what we see in others is a part of who we are is the first and most powerful step on the journey of self discovery.

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Free Hugs Campaign
Fantastic. I love this vid.

Free Hugs Campaign

Sometimes, a hug is all we need.

Free hugs is a real life controversial story of Juan Mann, A man whose sole mission was to reach out and hug a stranger to brighten up their lives.

In this age of social disconnectivity and lack of human contact, the effects of the Free Hugs campaign became phenomenal.

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Some links that you may find interesting...... by Stephanie Goddard - a website very much in line with the thinking of this site. Stressed Out at Work AGAIN? Work Stress Is NOT Caused By -Your Difficult Coworkers - Your Diet - Your Lack of Time...So What Causes Work Stress? Stress is caused by only one thing....the way you think. Stephanie has 2 great books: 101 Ways to Have a Great Day at Work and 101 Ways to Love Your Job is an excellent resource of information relating to mediation. There are articles, links to websites and blogs as well as the possibility of locating mediators in your area. - is a comprehensive guide to information about Self Improvement, Personal Growth and Self Help on the Internet. It is designed to be an organized directory, with articles and references to thousands of other Web Sites on the World Wide Web. is a rich source of information, quotes and support to enable us to find and be true to ourselves.

Oh Wow This Changes Everything is a great site with an enormous number of links to articles about different aspects of effective communication and conflict resolution. Definitely worth a could be there for hours! helps people, like yourself, create change in their life and business. They share fun stress management strategies and personal development articles.

New This site is sooo full of great links and resources relating to Co-operative Communication skills - I would very much recommend it.

Learning Supersite is a fascinating site dedicated to the development of informal learning. "A new approach to learning, the Learning Supersite is a venue that provides personal learning community, but with state-of-the-art Web technologies."

Transforming Conflict is an excellent organisation which works with young people, and adults, in educational settings, promoting restorative approaches to conflict.

Aik Saath This is an amazing and interesting website, quite besides the work of Aik Saath that it promotes. Aik Saath works to promote conflict resolution skills in young people and the development of peace and racial harmony in Slough, UK and its surrounding areas.

Would you like to build your own website?.....this is how I built mine... I Love SBI!

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