Check It Out! A Better Solution
CrisMarie and I are life coaches and we also are business consultants and work with leadership teams on teambuilding, communication and strategy development. Typically, we start with a two-day offsite or retreat. Awhile back we were working with one of our larger clients with a team of scientists for such an event. Below is an account of CrisMarie and I chatting at the end of Day One about one of the participants.
“Jerry didn’t say a thing all day, and I could tell he was bored and disappointed in the day’s events,” CrisMarie said.
“I agree he was pretty disengaged. I’m not sure what we should do differently,” I replied.
“Probably just let him be and carry on,” CrisMarie concluded.
Both CrisMarie and I were pretty sure Jerry was an unhappy camper. Furthermore, because CrisMarie and I surmised the same thing, I was sure we must both be ‘right’.
We didn’t make any significant changes to the remainder of our session. As the offsite wrapped up, we asked for closing comments. We were both expecting Jerry to say something negative. To our surprise, here’s what he said:
“This was the best two days I’ve ever spent at a team off site in my career. We got more done than I ever expected, and I actually enjoyed myself.”
So much for being ‘right’.
I am sharing this introduction because we believe it is quite common to create a story about someone or a situation with only limited information or confirmation. We then believe that story is the truth. Just like CrisMarie and I did. Fortunately, in this case above, even with our version of the story, we did not handle the situation differently. However, I have to admit, internally, I was more cautious and guarded with Jerry than I was with the rest of the team. Had we been doing on-going work with the team, and Jerry had never spoken up, I am fairly sure I would have started to make him ‘wrong’, possibly creating even more of a distance in our working relationship.
How Gaps Between People Are Created
We see this happen often in business with teams and in even with couples whom we also work with. For example, something happens and let’s say Mary, interprets, Sam’s outward behavior, making up a story about him. There is no checking it out with Sam to see if Mary’s interpretation fits for Sam. Instead, Mary makes an assumption (story) and, as a result, acts by making Sam ‘wrong’ in her mind. She then begins pulling away and often collecting data to support her perspective (story), eventually creating a gap that is very difficult to bridge.
The solution we often hear from folks is, “I just need to stop being so judgmental.” We’ve all heard the saying - “don’t judge a book by its’ cover” or some other type of comment on the evils of being judgmental. The problem, though, isn’t in being judgmental. The truth is, one of our greatest gifts is our imagination and our ability to discern and judge. We are hired for our opinions and ability to create a relevant story from what may seem like disparate facts.
The problem isn’t the gift of “judging” or imagining. No, the problem arises when we assume our story or judgment is right. We get fixed in our view of the world and think our view is the only right view. That is where our gift becomes a liability, especially in interpersonal relationships, which by the way, is the core of business.
What To Do About It: Check It Out!
The work isn’t to shutdown the story telling or judging. The work is to be willing to be curious and share the story – check it out. Find out if the story you have told yourself actually fits with others’ experience and be curious about the answer.
Even with Jerry, CrisMarie or I could have easily checked out our story directly with Jerry at the end of Day One. It could have gone something like this:
“Jerry I notice you keep looking down and aren’t saying too much during the discussions. My story is that you don’t think this team offsite is very valuable. Do you agree?”
When I share my story, I am actually saying more about me and how I put my world together than I am about the other person or situation I may be describing.
In addition, by sharing my judgments, stories, opinions, assumptions, or theories – as a story, not claiming them as fact, I create a space for dialogue, especially if I am willing to say – “Tell me how you see it,” or “Where do you disagree?” That is why we use the term “story” to remind ourselves that we are making it up as we go along. We all are. Why not check to see if the other agrees?
I did get the chance to chat with Jerry as we were leaving at the end of Day Two. I told him how I had interpreted his looking down and not saying much as disengagement. I understood now that my interpretation wouldn’t fit for him but wanted to tell him how glad I was to learn something new about him.
Jerry’s response, “You know my wife tells me that all the time. I’ve never have been one to smile or make a big deal out of things. But she has taught me I’d better say something so I am glad I spoke up. I imagine there are others like me. So I’m glad you learned something.”
There have been many Jerry moments in my life, when I didn’t check out my story in the moment and reacted from an incorrect interpretation of the situation. As a result, I have become much more curious and willing to put out my story as I go and check it out. In doing so, I learn more about others, avoid breakdowns in communications and my world has expanded.
Remember, the next time you find yourself judging or story telling. Don’t shut down your imagination and creativity. Speak up, share your story, how you came to your conclusions, and check it out. Be curious and open instead of making your world limited to your own imagination and perspective.
CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke are Master certified life coaches, business consultants, speakers and authors of The Beauty of Conflict. They believe real relationships are the key to creating great business results. They’ll take your team from mediocre to great.
Interested in coaching? Check out CrisMarie’s executive coaching and personal coaching, or Susan’s personal coaching and equus coaching.
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