Click here to read part 1 from last week
Sometimes choosing different behavior is all we need. Other times we know what we should do, but find ourselves not following through.
Imagine that my team has told me to stop accepting conflictual behavior and start holding folks accountable for improving productivity—which I had previously agreed to do, but never did. To change my problematic behavior I need to notice what emotions and thoughts come up when an opportunity to follow-through arises. I notice that I become anxious when I think about disciplining a member of my team. When I ask myself what I’m anxious about, I realize that I’m afraid of being thought of as unfair and that I won’t be liked anymore. Hmm, interesting! Why don’t I just choose to stop feeling anxious and get on with what I know I need to do?
Most of us know that is easier said than done. I might have better success choosing to change my thought process to one that tells me that if I don’t start holding my folks accountable that I could lose my job. That could work. But, it leaves me in a state of conflict with myself—I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. What a mess. More stress.
Instead, I can ask myself: On what beliefs are my thoughts based? As I look to see what they might be I notice a series of related beliefs:
1. I must be liked to feel good about myself.
2. To be liked I must be seen as fair.
3. The perceptions of other people are more important than my perception of myself.
I believe those things because that’s how my world worked when I was a kid. When my parents seemed to like me they did things that I liked. And, they always seemed unhappy with me when they told me I was being unfair even when I didn’t think I was being unfair. Now I ask myself: How applicable and/or useful are those beliefs to my current situation and goals? The answer, of course, is not very.
This gives me the opportunity to consciously and intentionally choose a set of beliefs that are based on the sound and current data of the present where I am an adult, not a child. I can choose to believe that holding my team members accountable for working with each other supportively will result in increased productivity! And a more pleasant working environment will increase their respect for me. And, if they respect me more they will even like me more.
Besides, my self-esteem need not be dependent on their liking me. I can choose to approve of myself rather than depend solely on others approving of me.
Behavior (Action) is driven by our emotions – our vehicle of motivation. What we don’t care about, we don’t do. The caring might be in the form of joy, anger, fear, or love. They are all emotions without which we do much of nothing.
Emotions are driven by our thoughts, which we use to make meaning of the events in which we are involved. The meaning we make may not or may reflect the actual nature of the event depending on our automatic interpretations and assumptions. Often our interpretations and assumptions sufficiently match sound and current data and are useful. However, in situations that are important to us do we want to trust “often?”
Thoughts are driven by our beliefs. If I believe that my thoughts (including the meaning that I make of an event) reflect the actuality without the need for further checking, I increase the probability of having my emotional response and subsequent behavior be off target. Of course, with such a belief we will also believe that our being off target is not our fault but is that of somebody or something else.
Beliefs are based on a combination of what we’ve learned from past experience, what we’ve been socialized to believe by our caretakers, teachers, friends, and society in general, plus whatever we invent as truth. A highly problematic belief is that they (my beliefs) represent the reality of the present. Such a belief will effectively prevent the taking in or use of sound and current data.
Each of our behaviors, emotions, thoughts, and beliefs is a choice point reflecting a level of possible mastery of conscious use of self. Mastery at the level of behavior—where our emotions, thoughts, and beliefs may be incongruent with our behavior—is a general (though often misplaced) expectation of adults in our society. Mastery at the level of emotions and thought is often the province of healthy adults who have done their share of introspection, personal growth and often therapy. Mastery at the level of beliefs is akin to wisdom calling for understanding that our egos and minds are not who we are, whose dictates we must follow, but simple tools for our full selves to use at conscious choice.
As we move toward deeper and deeper levels of conscious choice about how we use ourselves, we will be more and more able to behave in such a manner that the systems within which we wish to live and manage change will respond to us in ways consonant with our goals and intentions.
As a scuba diver I am witness to a host of differences among fish, yet they seem to live in relative peace. I see three-foot long barracuda with jagged teeth hanging not too far from scads of two-inch blue or brown chromis and slightly larger purple Creole wrasse. I see spotted drum of black and white stripes and polka dots living in proximity to parrotfish of rainbow colors.
There’s more I could share about the fishes of all differences of color, size, shape, gender configurations, etc., but the point is that fishes have all kinds of differences to which they don’t seem to pay any attention unless they are hungry. Then one fish is likely to eat another fish—but it’s a matter of life and death, of physical survival. Oh, I suppose I’ve seen skirmishes over territory, but these are minor and short-lived with no damage to either. They live in a world that is relatively conflict-free.
People, on the other hand, have exponentially fewer inherent differences of color, shape, size, etc., yet manage to use them to create conflict with extraordinary regularity. If there are no inherent differences we are more than capable of using differences of preference, opinion, and belief to create conflict—as if they were matters of life and death—when the only things that are at stake are our dear little egos.
As an organization development consultant, psychologist, former human resources director, and just plain human being I have spent over 30 years witnessing, working with, and informally but diligently studying conflictual situations of all kinds.
In addition, I have suffered the pain of the almost seven decades of conflicts and power struggles that have been created and dealt with in my own life. Accordingly, I’d like to think that I have gained some modicum of wisdom that might help others moderate, or at least modulate, the phthisic and enervating conflicts that are part of their lives at work and at home.
I plan to share such wisdom as it is through a blog series of which this is the beginning, through my twitter account @michaelfbroom, through a five part webinar series, and a book that just might result from all of this!
The plan is to offer a few paragraphs each week in this blog, which will also announce the webinars when they are ready. In other words, stay tuned!
Michael F. Broom, Ph.D.
October 3, 2011
There is not much of any significance that we can accomplish by ourselves. Whether it is a project at work or wanting to enjoy our time with others in our personal lives, we must successfully connect with others. Of course, there are those with whom we find it easy to connect, such as those who already know us and accept us, and those who are much like us. This includes those who may be of like minds, beliefs, attitudes, and histories as well as those who are like us politically, spiritually, racially, ethnically, and gender- and sexual preference-wise.
Prior to the 1960’s we tended to live and work with folks like ourselves, and connecting with others was relatively easy (not withstanding the occasional argument we might have with co-workers, friends, and family). However, since the 60’s we increasingly find ourselves socially and vocationally with others quite different from ourselves. Out of habit—on automatic—we tend to be uncomfortable with such a load of differences. Accordingly, we tend to try to avoid them, ignore them, convert them, suppress or oppress them, or fight with them.
Of course, it is the latter that is behind the conflicts that populate our lives and world regarding any of the differences already noted. Team conflict from such differences can compromise organizational performance. In the same manner conflict over differences in personality preferences can hamper marital harmony.
Being on automatic in these ways serves neither my ability to grow as a person, to enhance the productivity of the teams where I might encounter those differences, nor my ability to contribute to peace on this planet. Instead, I might consciously choose to make different options:
- I might intentionally and deliberately choose to believe that being uncomfortable is OK. I’ve been uncomfortable before and survived it just fine!
- While being uncomfortable, I might choose to be curious about you and others who are different from me. I might even be interested and appreciative of who you are and what you share with me—none of which requires me to agree with you!
- Finally, I might learn something. I might learn something about you and what you have to say. But, mostly I might learn something about me that might make me a better person.
We can choose to be conscious of our ability to consciously connect across those differences we use to make ourselves uncomfortable. Accordingly, we would empower ourselves to mitigate and alleviate suppression, oppression, and conflict on behalf of learning, harmony, and peace at home, at work, and in the world!