+Scott Watson

Monday, 13 August 2012

For The Millionth Time - Stop Exaggerating!

Nothing ever words out for me.  

I'm sure you've heard it.  Perhaps even thought it occasionally.  But this belief is just so inaccurate.  Surely SOMETHING must have worked out for us at some point in our lives?  If it hadn't, it's very unlikely any of us would be here.

We humans have a habit of distorting reality and creating our own meaning about what a certain situation or event means to us personally.  Let me share an example with you from a coaching session with a senior manager at a multi-million pound company.

John was responsible for managing nearly 100 employees and successfully implementing a number of important projects, often three or four projects simultaneously.  During the first ten minutes of our first coaching session, he shared his issues, concerns and troubles with me.  How the performance of some members of his team was becoming a 'BIG' problem and he (the victim) was 'ALWAYS' being let down by some of his more senior, project team members when they didn't meet 'agreed' deadlines.

In his own words he 'Got it in the neck' from his boss who, on more than one occasion apparently, made John shout at his team in an effort to 'Get their heads out of their arses' and focused on their work.  He continued, 'I've warned them that if they keep stabbing me in the back, I'll have to get rid of them.'

Have you noticed anything about the vocabulary John is using here? Yes, they're all imaginary incidents that had never happened in (external) reality - but they were John's reality in the confines of his own mind. For John, it was all absolutely true and accurate.

As I began to politely question and challenge some of John's current beliefs about the terrible situation he found himself in, he stated that without exception, he was always 'let down' by his team.  That 'If it's happened once, it's happened a hundred times' (Note: Has John been counting?).

Unwilling to accept the real source of the teams poor performance, missed deadlines and subsequent reprimands from his own boss, could be more down to his leadership, John continued to hurriedly point his finger at others rather than accept any kind of personal responsibility.  He refused to move from his view of everyone else being to blame - (Note: 'Could John be digging his heels in?').  His tone was becoming quite aggressive towards me personally as well as the situation he was vehemently complaining about.  And this is a challenge that is often encountered when coaching a senior manager who can't see a solution anywhere they look.  It's not usually intentional aggressiveness, just an auto-pilot response with a purpose of preserving current beliefs - even though there's no evidence to support them.

Now, I'm all for helping people to remove barriers, resolve issues and produce better results for themselves and their teams, and I'm really rather patient too - but I can get really fed up, really quickly when someone lets their ego take over.  It adds no value and can do immense harm to relationships, trust and teams if not kept in check.

After a long, deep breath, slapping my hands together loudly as if delivering a single applause, I politely and assertively said 'OK then John, take off your shirt please...AND DO IT NOW'.  John, being quite a bit taller, and a lot wider than me with shaven head and grainy North-East accent wasn't the ideal candidate for this kind of provocative approach.  The look of absolute shock on his face was almost as funny as when Del Boy fell through the open bar in Only Fools And Horses. I expect you remember it well.

John's focus quickly changed from playing a very willing victim in to a state of absolute confusion and disbelief as I continued; 'Come on John, don't be shy, just take you shirt off.  I continued, 'I won't tell if you won't'.  After what seemed like minutes but was perhaps only a few seconds, John's brain was still trying to make sense of my somewhat unusual, and unexpected request.  He asked me in a rather uncertain voice 'Why do I need to take my shirt off?'  I replied calmly...and slowly, 'Because I want to see all of those scars on your back....from all of those knives - surely you will have lots of scars.  Won't you?'

Bursting in to a fit of nervous and relieved laughter, John stood up, leaned over the desk that separated us, and firmly shook my hand. Eager to avoid the possibility of a keen left hook, my leaning to my left was strategic positioning more than anything else.

A few minutes later, John had eased himself out of his previously limiting thinking and moved into a more proactive, responsible frame of mind.  The use of metaphor and polite challenging of John's language patterns has assisted him to learn just how unproductive they were to him improving matters with his team - and with his boss.  There were no scares, just images in his mind of what a certain situation has meant to him.  He hadn't got anything in the neck and neither was he always let down by his team.  It just felt like it sometimes.

What followed was a very productive, collaborative coaching dialogue. John began to make real sense of the reality of the situation and took full responsibility for his part in the problem.  And, from this new, more empowering position, it was easy for him to start being part of the solution.

This is both a simple and true example of how our experience of a situation or a person can be easily distorted by what goes on in our head.  Think about it - how often do you hear people say 'This ALWAYS happens to me' or 'This will NEVER work'?  Also, you could hear comments such as being 'Stabbed in the back' or 'Kicked in the teeth'.

As you begin to spot these patterns of communication at work, whether it is with a frustrated customer or in a sensitive meeting, become more aware of the individual perspectives and understand how they view the experience. Remember that if you do challenge the comment, do it politely and with the other person's best interests at heart.  Just as with John he was experiencing the feelings in his own mind, even though they had never happened in what we like to call 'reality'.

By increasing your awareness of these types of comments you can not only quickly diffuse tense situations, but also, if you are a manager, move your team performance towards better productivity, enhanced quality and eradicate careless errors.  And you can achieve this with just a little awareness and practice.

I recommend that you steer away from inviting people to remove items of clothing, or if you do, stay well out of striking distance!


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