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?