The first of a series of video and written conversations between creative coach Auriel Majumdar and journalist Nell Block discussing the challenges of managing up and internal agency.
Auriel and Nell de-bunk some myths, give lots of practical tips and look at how we can set goals in a more realistic, purposeful way.
Nell starts the conversation with the question: what is internal agency and why do we need it?
Happy New Year! I’m really looking forward to working with you on the upcoming blogs. The first one I find especially intriguing—what is internal agency and why do we need it? As a journalist, harnessing internal agency is vital. For me, this can mean a variety of things but ultimately it’s about understanding yourself, being self-aware and using that to get the best out of a situation—professional or otherwise.
As I’ve worked in the industry for 10 years, there’s no doubt I have changed significantly over the past decade when it comes to how I behave and use my own internal agency.
When I started out in my career, I was always quick to react to a situation—if an email came in from a colleague that I didn’t agree with, I’d be happy to fire back something that was defensive and perhaps didn’t get the best out of the situation, for me or my colleague. I also found it especially difficult to take constructive criticism, taking it as a personal insult rather than a means to improve my work and progress in my field.
But now I find that taking a few moments to really understand what my colleague is after is the best approach—after all, we’re all on the same team and it makes sense to really see what they need and where I can help, rather than think they’re attacking me for something.
I’ve also found that I’m more keen to get feedback, regardless if it’s more “negative”, as listening to others has helped me be better at self-reflection. These are just a couple of examples, of course, but I also think that there are so many other facets to internal agency and what this means and how you can use it to your advantage.
Another thing I’ve been thinking about with regards to internal agency is about the New Year. I think it’s understandable that January brings up so many questions about where your life is going (hello existential crisis!) and has the tendency to make people think about their careers and what they want out of it in the year to come.
However, this year I don’t want a new year, new me, I want to build on what I achieved last year. I also can’t stop thinking about this one quote from Brene Brown:
“the only unique contribution that we will make in this world will be born of our creativity”.
This has really resonated with me and I think that another aspect of harnessing your internal agency is not just how you behave outwardly towards other people but how you internally make decisions and how you can use that to be more creative. As a journalist that for me predominantly means being a creative writer (although my role takes many forms) and I keep thinking about how I can harness my internal agency to be more creative.
Anyway, I’d love to know what you think? What’s your view on internal agency? And how do you think you can use it to your advantage in a creative sphere? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!
I'm excited to collaborate with you on these blogs too. I know I do my best learning when I get the chance to reflect on things with other people so I'm hoping that our conversations will be a prompt to help people reading them to think about their own development and take action as a result.
As a professional coach, I support people to be more proactive in setting their own intentions and goals and learning from their challenges and setbacks.
When I consider the term internal agency it reminds me of this work we all have to do - taking charge in our lives, setting our own direction and deciding how to live in a way that's true to our beliefs and values.
Of course this is easier said than done and many things can get in the way. Lack of confidence, a critical inner monologue and not feeling like you can influence those around you can all conspire to throw you off course.
It's interesting that you've noticed a change in yourself over the last decade because I have definitely developed the skill of being more thoughtful and considered in my actions. I'm in my late 50s now but in my younger days I was very hot-headed professionally. My default was to act impulsively from a place of anger, fear or hurt feelings. I was the queen of the 'reply all' email sent in haste and it never did me any favours! I hope that by sharing some of the things I've learned along the way in these blogs, people will be able to develop their internal agency, a sense of confidence in themselves more quickly than I did because once you develop that ability to take a breath before reaction, to work from a considered place then you'll notice that professional (and personal) life becomes smoother and more rewarding.
I love that quote from Brene Brown! It seems to me that if we can develop our internal sense of purpose and confidence, if we can tune into what we want to achieve and why then we stand more of a chance of being creative in the things that we do. And that seems to me to be a better endeavour than constantly seeking a 'new you' whatever time of year it is.
As an academic I can't resist ending with a signpost to some reading. The management guru Daniel Goleman came up with the term Emotional Intelligence by which he means the ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they're telling you, and realize how your emotions affect people around you. It also involves your perception of others: when you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively. This seems a good place to start thinking about internal agency and we'll come back to his ideas again in these blogs but in the meantime you might want to watch him explain them in this short video here.