Tel: 0115 9699 925 | Email:

Author Archive for: mariawillis

APC – Avoiding The Stress Factor

APC – Avoiding The Stress Factor

Maria Willis, a Chartered Quantity Surveyor through qualification, works for Gleeds in Nottingham. She has extended her specialism beyond her current role as a Project & Risk Manager by pursuing her interest in the field of personal development.

Click here to read more.

Construction Coach: Building A Future In Surveying

Construction Coach: Building A Future In Surveying

Social savvy Maria Willis has built a career around her passion for personal development. Now a professional business coach, risk manager and project manager, we spoke to Maria about her path through the construction industry

Click here to read more

Bricks and the City – Stressed? Time For A Group Hug!

Bricks and the City – Stressed? Time For A Group Hug!

Where is Alanis Morissette when you need her? I’m going to add an extra line in………….’ isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?’ It’s that ti ee ime, when you write a blog about stress and you lose it all, and you feel incredibly stressed, and rather than summarising the amazing TED talk you’ve discovered today and want to share with the world, you post the link and go downstairs and have a glass of wine.

Who would have thought, it figures!

The other thing I read today was some words of wisdom from the actress Drew Barrymore, apart from saying how it’s fine to touch an Extra Terrestrial’s finger and get them to phone home, she also makes sure that if she makes a mistake, she doesn’t do it again! The next irony is, this has happened to me before, but it definitely won’t happen again!

I hope you watch the TED because it is a great one and it will certainly change how you think about stress.

Here it is:

Have a great week everyone, mine’s a Chianti!

Bricks and the City – Time To Manage The Manure

Bricks and the City – Time To Manage The Manure

First of all, do you like the picture? this is what manure looks like if it’s happily managed. So what does that mean exactly?

I don’t know how many of you reading this blog read Building Magazine’s recent article “Trouble at the Top” (11.04.2014) about how bad managers can have a big impact on staff morale and productivity levels and could even pose a serious threat to the industry’s upturn.

The article was based on a recent survey by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) which found that only one in three of us are positive about the performance of the people who manage us in the workplace. It should be noted that this does not just refer to the construction industry but I am sure the majority of us will have experienced this at some stage in our careers. Across all sectors of the economy the CMI found that 74% of managers lack empathy when making decisions and fail to consider the impact of their choices on the wellbeing and interests of colleagues and they also found that 80% of employees don’t think their manager sets a good example.

One of the things I have been thinking about for a while is that the industry needs more of the ‘softer’ skills and we need to move away from thinking that to get the most out of people, managers have to be tough and demanding. Time for some warm and fuzziness which is why I started writing this blog in the first place!

Enter the manure. I concept I came up with whilst sitting in my neighbour’s house having a coffee and a flapjack, we need to ‘manage the manure‘.

How many times have you had manure cascaded down on you from above and then passed it straight down the line to your team. Or, from the side when a design team member is pointing the finger and you immediately turn round and look at who you can direct it to. Or, a Client isn’t happy with something and looks to you to direct some manure in someone else’s direction. Sound familiar? Either way it’s a shower of…….. and does not make for good working relationships.

In whatever role we do whether we are managers or we are managing ourselves we need to manage the manure, but how? If you are a manager you are there to lead your team, it’s human nature to think, well if I’m getting showered, I’m going to direct it straight down the line, but if you take a step back for 5 minutes to think about what needs to be done before wading in, you would get much better results.

Asking open questions also helps the situation, these are the types of questions we ask in coaching such as, can you tell me a bit more about….. can you talk to me about……. are you aware of…….. what was the thought process behind……..

One of the things we learnt on my coaching course was not to start a question with why, immediately you are closing the conversation down and making someone feel like they need to defend their actions rather than expand their thinking.

This approach may sound wishy washy to some and there is certainly a time and a place for assertiveness but I would encourage you to think about your approach and that it doesn’t necessarily fit all situations.

Food for thought for a Monday and don’t forget to put up those umbrellas when the proverbial comes flying to stop the cascade!

Bricks and the City – What A Load Of Bullocks!

Bricks and the City – What A Load Of Bullocks!

I read a couple of weeks ago in Construction News, ‘offensive talk rife at work’ (4 April 2014/7) about a new survey  conducted by CITB which revealed that sexist, racist and homophobic language is regularly used in the construction industry.

The survey findings are on the link above and are not good reading.  Interestingly most of those surveyed described the tone of offensive language as “banter”.  So, a lot of construction industry workers may have been conditioned over the years and developed their rhinoceros skin to think that it is “banter” but it’s not really.

I have worked Client side for the whole of my career so far but I regularly go out onto site and hear bad language, however,  because I represent the Client and I’m a woman they seem to tone it down a bit.  I must admit I have resorted to turning the air blue on one or two occasions but It’s really not a good look.

All of this got me to thinking about the origins of swearing, why do we do it?  During my research I came across Steven Pinker who is a Psychologist at Harvard and specialises in language, mind and human nature.  His talk on The Language of Swearing on You Tube is f*cking brilliant (all will be revealed if you watch).  It’s in 2 parts and the link I’ve posted is part 2 which talks about the 5 different types (yes, there are 5, who knew?!) of swearing.  The first part of the talk looks at the psychology of swearing and tells us that taboo words activate brain areas associated with negative emotion and the brain can’t help but register it’s meaning.  Use of language as a weapon forces listeners to think an unpleasant or at least an emotionally charged thought.

The 5 types of swearing are:-

Dysphemistic which is the opposite to Euphemistic.  A Euphemism is an alternative to a dispreferred expression.  With a Dysphemism you want that person to think about how awful something is, the point for politeness has passed, a strong emotion that has to be expressed

Abusive swearing is used to intimidate and humiliate someone in a metaphorical sense

Idiomatic swearing is where is where it is unclear what words are doing in expressions if someone used the f word a number of times in one sentence which we’ve all heard a number of times (like when I made the mistake of going to the local pub on darts night?! Never again!)  It is used to ping people’s emotions to be macho and cool or to express informality

Emphatic swearing where you want to emphasise something

Cathartic swearing which lets of steam, releases tension and stems back to when an animal is injured or confined, a sudden angry noise, but, as Steven Pinker points out, we learn the words to say, we don’t know them instinctively!

So, my findings are, people swear to make someone think about how awful something is, to intimidate and humiliate someone, where it’s not necessary in a sentence, if you want to emphasise something or to let off steam.

I’m no angel and I do swear, we all do, sometimes it is funny, I especially love it when the Irish swear and I thought it was brilliant when I first learnt the word feck, especially after watching Father Ted.  Also, the movie ‘In Bruges’ with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson is fantastic.  I watched it with my parents and had to warn them about the language beforehand but they thought it was really good too.

I think sometimes swearing is ok but the key is having the emotional intelligence to know when it’s not.  There are other ways of dealing with emotions rather than swearing at someone so that they know how bad something really is, e.g, ‘you’ve really f*cking screwed up now haven’t you?’ We have to remember that we have control over our emotions and how we react to them and we have to learn how to handle them differently so we are not taking them out on someone else.

Abusive language is just disgusting behaviour and it saddens me to think that it is happening in our industry (and others of course).

I would be interested to know what other people’s viewpoints are and what we can do as an industry to change things, I think having an awareness of why we do it is a good starting point which I hope my blog has done today.

Have a flipping awesome week!!  Hmmm, not sure about that alternative!

Bricks and the City – Being Mindful about Being Mindful

Bricks and the City – Being Mindful about Being Mindful

Firstly I should say that I’ve not been mindful about writing this blog, I have been writing this blog whilst making the Sunday dinner, hopefully the chicken will not suffer for my lack of focus, the juices will run clear and we shall not contract botulism. If not, then I hope you have enjoyed reading my blog this past year and let this be a lesson to us all to be mindful!

Secondly, I have spent the past year being mindful of the fact that I am not being mindful! A year ago I blogged about this and I downloaded the App ‘Headspace’ by Andy Puddicombe, you can set an alarm to go off at any time as a reminder to do a 10 minute mindfulness meditation. So, every day the alarm goes off at 7.20am and every day I ignore it. I did do about 5 days in total and the first day I didn’t give myself enough time, set off for work got stuck behind a tractor and was late!

Still curious about mindfulness I found out about a local course, enrolled and went along last Sunday afternoon. So, what is mindfulness? It’s about paying attention to the present moment. How many times are you sat at your desk, ‘focusing’ on the task in hand and your mind is either thinking about something that happened earlier, or yesterday, or last week or about the meeting you have to go to later, the report you have to write by the end of the day, the e mail you haven’t had a response to yet, etc, etc. Sound familiar? Your mind is essentially full!

Mindfulness is about bringing your awareness into the now and focussing on this moment, this one here, right now. If you check in with yourself right NOW, are you reading this blog mindfully or are you thinking about your day ahead or the rubbish journey you’ve just had getting into work, we do it all the time. How do we stop flitting backwards and forwards and be mindful?

One of the biggest revelations for me and I think where I’d been going wrong was thinking I had to set aside a chunk of time every day, just once to practice mindfulness, hence downloading the app (which I’m sure works for a lot of people) and failing every morning to create the time to practice. The answer is, you don’t. You can practice by focusing on simple everyday tasks such as getting a shower, brushing your teeth, it’s all about being in the moment and being present with what you are doing. On the course we learnt different practices such as the body scan which is focusing on different parts of your body from top to toe and noticing how they are feeling. You can also simply focus on the breath for a few minutes which helps to quiet the mind and calm down the noise to enable you to focus your attention on the now.

So, why do it? More and more research is being carried out on the benefits of mindfulness and this post lists 20 reasons why it’s good for your mental and physical health, the first one being that it lowers stress by reducing the stress hormone cortisol, sounds as good a reason as any!

I bought a book ages ago called Mindfulness for Busy People by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel which I had fully intended to read this week, unfortunately I am only on page 49, I have 180 pages to go! What I have read so far is really good though, particularly the reminder that all time is our time and I love this quote, “Everywhere you are, everywhere you go, whatever you are doing and whomever you are with- surprise, surprise, you are also there!” I shall report back when I’m finished the book and I have been trying to practice what I preach this week in some shape or form although my mindfulness muscle is incredibly weak, I’m sure it will build itself up in time.

Finally I wanted to share a really good TED Talk from Diana Winston on The Practice of Mindfulness. Diana is the Director of the Mindfulness Awareness Research Centre at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and if you can spare 17mins and 7 seconds of your time, I would really recommend you watch. She gives a great introduction to what it’s all about, the benefits and how you do it which is something I’ve tried to do in my blog but if I got distracted by cooking my chicken and haven’t done it justice, I apologise!

Have a great week everyone!

Bricks and the City – We Can Be Heroes Not Just For One Day!

Bricks and the City – We Can Be Heroes Not Just For One Day!

This week I’ve been on a brilliant course all about brain friendly learning, it was all about designing training courses that use a wide variety of learning techniques for making learning (and the design of learning) faster, more fun and effective. There was certainly no ‘death by power point’ during the 3 days I was on the course, I only wish I’d known what I know now earlier in the week when I was delivering Risk Management training!! I can now design a…………wait for it…………….exciting and enjoyable Risk Management course which is something I never thought I would say in a sentence.

Anyway, I wanted to share one of the key things I learnt which is, STATE IS EVERYTHING. So, what does that mean? According to Kaizen Training who ran the course:-

‘States are the primary determinant of behaviours, they are like the weather in your brain and provide a “pool of choices” from which all behaviours emerge. They regulate motivation’.

There are 3 ways to change your state, through the body, through language and through focus. States can be changed both positively and negatively. So, if you observe your own or someone else’s body language, if you are slouching, arms folded, making yourself small it can say a lot about how you are feeling within yourself and that could be influenced by your reaction to someone saying something negative to you or your own self talk. From a focus point of view, how many times have you said to yourself, I can’t find my keys, I can’t find my keys and then someone else finds them exactly where you were looking?

Your physiology sends a message to your brain about your state, therefore by changing your physiology, you can change your state, by saying positive things to yourself you can change your state and by focusing on something positive you can change your state.

One exercise to demonstrate this was to have someone stand up with their arm out to the side and say something positive or focus on someone who is a positive influence in their lives and say their name over and over again, the person standing next to them would try and force their arm down and they couldn’t. When that person focussed on something negative, the arm went down straight away, they lost their power. How many times do we do that on a daily basis?

So, why the super heroes? One exercise you can use is to adopt a super hero power pose (see blog photo for demonstration). Adopting that pose for a few minutes or even stretching your arms out wide above your head can send a positive signal to your brain and change your state. So, next time you have a presentation to do, or an important meeting, or even job interview, take yourself to a secluded spot (aka the ladies or gents) and do some power poses, see how it works! There is also some scientific research to back this up and if you have 5.57 minutes spare I would really recommend watching the following link.

Amy Cuddy is a Social Psychologist and Professor at Harvard Business School who noticed how student’s body language was impacting on their performance and contribution and carried out research on how adopting power poses can make a difference. Testosterone, known as the dominance hormone is associated with confidence and assertiveness, cortisol known as the stress hormone is associated with inability to adapt to highly stressful situations. The research showed that adopting power poses increased the dominance hormone and reduced the stress hormone.

Finally, I wanted to leave some food for thought. If you had a friend who spoke to you the way you sometimes speak to yourself, how long would you still be friends with them?

Have a great week super heroes!!

PS, if you are ever feeling down or in a rubbish mood, watch this youtube clip, it is guaranteed to bring a smile to you face and change your state baby laughing at ripping paper especially if you’ve had a job rejection letter this week………!

Bricks and the City – Top Of The Morning To You!

Bricks and the City – Top Of The Morning To You!

This weekend I was going to write about apprenticeships but I have to be honest, my work / life balance was tipped more on the life side and I didn’t get it written.

I was all set not to post anything this week but last night I watched ‘Harry’s South Pole Heroes’ about a 200km expedition to the South Pole to raise money for and bring awareness to the Walking with the Wounded charity.

As well as seeing Prince Harry’s attempt to do a Geordie accent I was really inspired by the documentary and it propelled me to get off my ar*e and write a quick blog.

The main thoughts I was thinking last night came back to something that I’m doing at the moment which is finding something every day to be grateful for and it feels like it’s working. I’m doing the 100 happy days challenge with a twist using the #100happyconstructiondays and so far I haven’t missed a day. The other word buzzing through my head last night was perspective.

You too can find happiness in big buttoned calculators, bacon sandwiches on a Friday, cake, smiley faces on the photocopier,baby lambs and something we seem to be seeing a recurring appearance of at the moment…………..sunshine!

It sounds a bit new age and hippy like and I admit that I did wear tasselled skirts and have a variety of joss sticks when I was younger but, give it a go!

If nothing else, enjoy your free rainbow and pot of gold that comes with this blog.

Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone and may the luck of the Irish………………………… team be with us!!

Bricks and the City – Not Just Jobs For The Boys

Bricks and the City – Not Just Jobs For The Boys

A number of things have influenced my blog post this week, yesterday was International Women’s Day which celebrates the social, political and economic achievements of women while focusing world attention on areas requiring further action.  Inspiring Change is the 2014 theme.

Secondly, Construction News published a piece on Friday entitled Jobs for the Girls about the industry still being stuck at the bottom of the table for gender balance with only 12% of women in the construction industry.  I have to say I’m really shocked at this percentage and I’ve clearly had my head in the sand in this area, I know we’re in the minority but I didn’t think it was that low.  I think if you see females in your workplace everyday and you make a concerted effort to network with other females in the industry then you don’t notice how few of us there actually are!

Last week was also Apprenticeship Week 2014 which is all about raising the profile of apprenticeships amongst employers, individuals, teachers, parents and the media.

Throw all of that into the melting pot and it got me reflecting back on how I got into the industry and what we can do to encourage more females to don hard hats and luminous site wear.

My favourite subject at school was woodwork, closely followed by technical drawing.  I totally disliked cooking, or domestic science as it was termed.  I remember trying to make soup which needed to be put into a flask to take home with me and I’d chopped the vegetables so big that I had to force them in.  Not very appetising although I hasten to add I do now love cooking and baking!

I was one of only 2 girls in the whole of our school doing GCSE woodwork and I still have the book case I made (together with a drop leaf stationary compartment) in my house today.  A women never likes to disclose her age but I will for the purpose of this blog, I left school in 1988 and prior to that had an idea that I wanted to be a cabinet maker or a joiner, all that changed when we went to visit a local organ builders, makers and restorers of church organs!  Following a tour of their workshops I decided I wanted to work there but was told that I couldn’t apply as they had no female welfare facilities!

I then looked through a local college prospectus and found a 2 year Building Studies course, I think it was the photo of the roof truss that did it for me.  After the first year we had work experience and I worked for a contractor on site in the quantity surveying department and decided that was what I wanted to do, and  so I did.

Apart from a little bit of bullying from the boys at college my experiences in the industry have been really positive although aside from my college work experience, I have always worked for a consultant so I don’t know how I would have faired working for a contractor.  I would like to think it would have been equally as positive although I know working on site whether you or male or female can be a tough environment.

It would be interesting to know how the 12% of women is made up, particularly how many of those are in the trades versus the professions.

My reflections prompted me to ask the question, what would a female’s experience be now coming into the industry and what makes them want to be in construction in the first place? Making a guest appearance on my blog this week is Nicola Butcher who I started following on twitter.  Nicola is an 18 year old Apprentice Carpenter and I contacted her to see if she would mind answering some questions about what attracted her to work in the industry.  Reading Nicola’s answers reminded me so much about me when I was younger.  In her own words, ‘I’ve always been a rather practical, hands on type person, and remember doing a lot of DIY things around the house as a teenager.  I built a pond in the garden at 15 as well!’

At 14 Nicola broached the subject of working in the industry to her mum who had reservations and even went for a college interview to become a beauty therapist but was turned down.  She also thought about catering as an option but undertook 2 weeks work experience in carpentry and luckily was offered an apprenticeship and took it.  Nicola loves what she is doing now, she has just finished carpentry and is now studying electrics and if you find her on twitter, you will see some excellent examples of her work!  Again, in her own words, ‘Every day holds different opportunities for me and I have overcome many personal challenges.  I love that the construction industry as a whole is becoming more accepting to females although it’s still a challenge, for guys you can walk on site and straight away you’re accepted even if you can’t do your job that well, as a girl you have to work hard-you have to do everything perfectly and prove yourself straight away.  I think maybe the reason for this is although the industry as a whole’s thinking may have changed, you can’t change the thinking of people as individuals, and until we start seeing a few more women we won’t be able to change things’.

Finally, in answer to my question would she recommend it as a career, Nicola’s response was, ‘I would definitely recommend it as a career, you have to be determined and seemingly without weakness, but it is possible! Definitely for women there is a market out there and it’s a great career’.

Wise words from Nicola.  This also links in to a book I’m reading at the moment by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, in ‘Lean In – Women, Work and the Will To Lead’ Sheryl makes reference to a 2011 McKinsey report in the US which noted that, ‘men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments’.

Whether you are male or female, work should be about doing something you love and my utopia is that we all find roles we feel passionately about because we spend so long doing it!  We definitely need to do more to spread the word in schools to encourage more young women into the industry and also change the perception that to compete with the boys we cannot show weakness and we have to be perfect.

I know there is a big push in general to attract young people into the industry and having recently been selected as an RICS Regional Board Member and a regional committee member for the Construction Industry Council I will be doing my best to spread the word about the cracking jobs for the girls in our industry.

Bricks and the City – The Happiness Advantage

Bricks and the City – The Happiness Advantage

“Clap your hands if you feel like a room without a roof”! I’m not sure that would definitely make us so happy in the construction industry but it’s a line from my favourite song of the year so far, Happy by Pharrell Williams. If you haven’t heard it already, there is a link below but rather than the official video I’ve uploaded the one with the words and also minions!

This week has been all about happiness for me. I’m reading a book called The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, The Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work. If you have 12 mins and 20 seconds to watch this TED talk then I strongly advise it. Not only will it make you laugh, it also summarises the book really well. The happy secret to better work

If you don’t have the time then in a nutshell the book talks about how our brain is wired to think if we are successful, then we’ll be happy and we keep moving the goal posts. If we achieve the target set for turnover, we’ll be happy, then the turnover is achieved (or not) and then the goal posts move and the target is increased, so we never achieve that happiness.

I think the research Shawn Achor has done into positive psychology is brilliant and the findings are that happiness fuels success. Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. If we can become positive in the present our brains work more successfully and we are able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.

So, how do we become positive in the present? Achor talks about one of the ways as writing down 3 positive things that have happened each day which I think is a really good thing to do. Something I started this week is 100 happy days which is the challenge to take a photo every day for 100 days of something that has made you happy. I’m doing it with a twist on twitter @constructcoach with the hash tag #100happyconstructiondays. If you want to see photos of cake and concrete then check it out!

One photo I will share on here is something I noticed on day 3 which I had never noticed before in all of the times I have used the photocopier……


If you can see it then you’re on your way!

Have a great week everyone!

Happy with minions