Coach’s Corner: Emma Smillie

In this month’s Coach’s Corner, we chat to Emma Smillie, Global Marketing and Communications Manager for Oil Spill Response. As the name suggests, the company responds to spills, and also provides training, consultancy, equipment hire and crisis management services. Having trained as Red2Blue coach, Emma talks to us about how she uses the techniques she’s learnt, not only in her day job, but also in her role as a mum.

How did you get involved with Red2Blue?

I got involved with Red2Blue as part our crisis management training programme at work. I help deliver the modules on how to manage communications during a crisis, which led to looking at Red2Blue. I’m quite a sporty person so I love the theory behind mindset training. It’s something I’d read about before, so I naturally leant into it and found it interesting.

What was your first experience of Red2Blue in action?

My first exposure to Red2Blue was during some crisis management communications training. I was in what we call the ‘sim cell’, and was playing the role of the media, ringing up pretending to be a journalist and putting people under pressure in the moment. Our crisis management training puts people through an experiential simulation of crisis, as realistic as you can make it.

Red2Blue coach Andy Couch was there delivering the Red2Blue model. He was showing people how to use it in the moment to get yourself back into Blue head. This allows you to think logically and calmly under pressure in a crisis environment so that you make the right decisions. That was when I first observed it and I became a certified coach myself. I’ve recently completed the Advanced Red2Blue Coach certification.

We’ve been talking to school leaders about how valuable Red2Blue in schools, but we hear you’ve used it with your four-year-old. Can you tell us about how that came about?

After my Red2Blue training, I started using the language at home, so I think both my children have picked up on that. It wasn’t so much a case of sitting them down and saying, this is Red head or this is Blue head because I felt they were a bit too young to really understand the concepts, especially the four year old, but I started to use the language.

I love my children to bits, but they are the two people that can push me into Red head. I would use the Red head / Blue head concept if I felt I was losing it a little bit. I would start saying “Mummy’s having a Red head moment. We’re just going to take a moment out and sit back.” I was applying it to myself to begin with, not teaching them what Red head meant for them. And then my four-year-old, who’s a very curious child, would ask questions. She would ask me what Red head meant and I would try to explain it. So, it wasn’t about trying to get them to recognise what mode they were in at the time; it was more about how it applied to me.

What was the moment you realised the concept had begun to sink in?

My four-year-old had a mini meltdown in the car about something which, to everyone else, had no logic but to her meant a lot. We resolved it calmly at the time (it took a while, but we got there). She had obviously been reflecting and drew me a picture. If you look at the image below, the part taped in pink is her being angry and the inside is how she was feeling.

The second picture shows the words ‘I am Red’. Prior to that when I’d been talking to my girls about Red head and Blue head, I wasn’t sure it was really making any sense but as usual, they surprised me.

I think the fact that a four year old can understand it just demonstrates how practical and easy to implement this framework really is in a pressure moment.

Do you think the Red2Blue training has helped with parenting?

I think I’ve become a much calmer parent because of it. It’s odd because my Red head mode varies but with my children, it definitely goes into more of a shouting mode, whereas in other situations I might go into a flight or freeze mode.  With them, I would find myself getting quite angry. And so now, I visualise a line and I can feel myself getting there. I visualise a  Blue to Red line and I visualise myself taking a step back towards the Blue away from the Red. So, I’m a much calmer parent because I can do that in my head, and I also take a physical step back. When my four-year-old drew the ‘Red’ picture, I was blown away. I felt so proud that she’s four years old and has really good emotional intelligence already.

Finally, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career? And what’s the one piece of advice that you give to others?

The best advice that I’ve been given – and that I give to other people – is don’t ever be afraid to fail. I call myself a recovering perfectionist because I’ve been afraid to fail quite a lot. I had to do a lot of mental work to get myself out of that. If I’d have known about Red2Blue earlier, I’d have probably got myself out of it much quicker! It took a lot of introspection to get myself into a mode of saying, actually, it’s okay to take chances. It’s okay to make mistakes and learn. Failure is only failure if you don’t take the opportunity to learn. That’s probably the best piece of advice I’ve ever been given. And I now give the same advice to my team quite regularly!

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