During this past week I was visiting a prospective new customer and making a presentation to a team of people who were evaluating how our offering would help their business. A part of our offering is quite unique to our industry, and as we got into these aspects I noticed that one member of the evaluation team crossed their arms and seemed to withdraw somewhat. As our presentation continued I continued to try to show how our unique approach would really help them, but it just seemed to increase the resistance. I found myself reacting to this by imagining this person as the problem. Why doesn’t she get this! I’d be much happier if she would just change her attitude!
I am currently studying at the Hudson Institute of Coaching in Santa Barbara, California, I’m learning a lot, and a lot of this is because of the quality of the faculty at this school, starting from the top down. One of the key faculty members has a gift of brilliant, catchy one-liners that one will remember and apply going forward, and one of those is the inspiration for this post.
“I would be happy if you would just change.”
She uses this expression when we are in discussion of the nature of interpersonal relationships. It refers to that part of our nature that wants negative elements in our life to be attributed to someone else’s action or inaction. We don’t want to be to blame.
“I would be on time for work if my kids would get their act together”.
“I would have got that promotion if Anthony in accounting hadn’t messed up that analysis I needed.”
“I’m so mad at my best friend for missing my 40th birthday party last week.”
“I would be happy if you would just change.”
Is it really true … I mean true in the depths of our minds and hearts … that our happiness is that dependent on the actions of others? I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past. I’ve interpreted the actions of others as direct assaults on me as a person. And then in the calm after the storm found out that my assumptions were wildly off base and the “guilty” party was in fact acting with integrity based on the information they had at the time.
The problem was me. I didn’t want to have to look inside myself and ask what my “steps in the dance” were. What did I contribute to the misunderstanding? What possibilities outside my own desire outcome am I ignoring? Is it possible that the other person is a mental or emotional scapegoat for my own feeling of vulnerability?
How many stand-offs or conflicts have we created because we were unwilling or unable to account for our own part of the issue?
How many great alliances and grand solutions might we create if we approach each issue with an open mind to look for new ways of dealing with them instead of shelter from blame, judgment or loss?
Is it possible for us to accept that the greatest influence on our own happiness is ourselves?
Now let’s add the magnifying glass of leadership to this. If we appear to our team as someone who deflects blame, judgment or loss onto others in order to convey personal success, should we not expect that our teams will learn from us and use the same tactics to promote their own success?
How about if we were to appear completely comfortable with our own vulnerability and openly accept that we don’t know everything, we aren’t infallible and that we indeed need others’ support in order to be effective?
Asking which approach might be more successful would be trite and possibly insulting. Of course we know the latter approach would motivate more. What is likely to be more instructive for us is to look inside ourselves and ask what behaviors and long-held beliefs get in our way of adapting this latter approach more often.
What stops us from asking ourselves questions like:
“Kids will be kids. I wonder what new approaches I can come up with to help them be ready to go earlier?”
“Dang I missed that promotion! I wonder what they were looking for that I need to work on? I better ask for a meeting to help me build a development plan.”
“It’s not like my friend to miss an important event like that. I wonder if there is something happening for her? Maybe I should call and make sure everything is alright.”
How much more effective can we be as both leaders and as human beings to first accept our responsibility in all things that affect us? And then how much more could we magnify that effectiveness by making an elemental assumption that others are acting rationally and have good intentions?
What if we started by trying to practice this once a day? What shifts could we create in ourselves and perhaps even in our key relationships?
12 thoughts on “What About You?”
So… I have to ask, what happened with the crossed-arms person?
I love that line – — I will be happy if you would just change. and it doesn’t have to be behaviour. It could be, mind, attitude, all sorts of things. We do it everywhere. Look to others to change so we can be happy!
Love it! Thanks Ian for my morning smile and inspiration. You changed my day! 🙂
but… I will admit… I would be happy if the snow just went away! Just sayin’… 🙂
ditto – on the snow thing that is!
So true! And isn’t it amazing the number of times it DOESN’T work!! 🙂
OK we also have quorum on the snow. It needs to go!
I think the part of the post that resonates with me most is where you talk about admitting you don’t know it all and being vulnerable. One of the things a team has to be, in order to do this, is safe. I’ve been vulnerable in ‘unsafe’ teams and it’s scary to do! It feels really judgey at first but then some team members came to me privately afterward to say they feel the same or offer help or… and sometimes I’ve been able to create a safe team by doing this…
Love this post Ian – thank you!
Thanks Diana. That is a very real scenario you mention. Being vulnerable within a group that is not willing to be vulnerable takes a lot of courage. And belief in one’s self above all.
I am fortunate to also be a student at the Hudson Institute of Coaching and doubly fortunate to be in the same small learning group with Ian. He has done a marvelous job of making me feel safe to show my vulnerability.
Anyone out there who has the opportunity to be coached by Ian should jump on it. He is highly skilled and consistently demonstrates kindness and wisdom. Of course, those of you who follow this blog already know that!
Thank you so much for the kind words and support Katie! It is a blessing to be able to go through this journey with you!
I love this post as to how we can only change ourselves and our own attitude; to stop blaming others for our situation, take responsibility. i love your example of turning around in the last five paragraphs.
However, I was wondering what you do when a staff member’s attitude is bringing the team down and it is essential that they DO change. There comes a time when changing yourself or your own perception of an incident does not work (for the long-term good of the team or the business).
One step further than that, what if TWO staff members are in conflict with each other, neither will take the high road and see the other side, both are standing there with their arms crossed, and the whole situation is bringing the team to a standstill. What would do you do then?
Thanks for your engagement on this and I love your questions. Of course every situation is unique, so my thoughts here tend towards generality.
On your first question, what would happen if you were to engage with that team member individually and address the issue directly, and if confronted with crossed arms or blame of others, simply ask the person what they think their “steps in the dance” are?
On your second question, I have faced situations like this before and I generally revert to the same approach. That is to bring both the people into the same room together, highlight the impact of the issue on both the two of them but also the team. I would then offer them the choice of solving the problem themselves or you solving it for them. I generally encourage the former by pointing out that there is no guarantee that either of them will like my solution.
I like that solution 🙂
My take is simple, you can’t please everyone and I don’t intend to…it’s too difficult to teach a pig to fly, why bother and stress out over it? Some people will always be negative, I just ignore and bypass them. Remember the old Aesop fable?