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Creating a Reality That Doesn’t Exist

As humans, we make sense of our world through story.  In other words, we create a reality for ourselves that doesn’t exist, in reality.

I attended a workshop last weekend with Human Change Technology Expert, S. Lane Pierce, and he cited Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi the author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience who theorizes that we are bombarded with two million bits of input each second, and we process about 126 of them.  We do that through a process of deleting, distorting and generalizing.

As an excellent communicator, I accept that I am 100% responsible for the communication, and therefore, I  understand that the value of any communication is in the response it generates.   So, if I am not getting the response I want, it’s up to me to be flexible.

One of the challenges we have as leaders is managing the story that our staffs create for themselves.  The secret to doing that is managing the 126 bits.

Take my former client, John*.  When John came to me, he had just been released from a performance plan at work – not the good kind.  He was never sure why he was rated a “Needs Improvement” to begin with, and the reason why he was no longer on the plan was because after his direct supervisor left, no one else could figure out why he was on it, either.

So, John says to me that everyone thinks he’s incompetent, especially his new manager.  Now, this is quite a story, isn’t it?  First of all… everyone?  Really?  Everyone?  How do you know?

What about the new manager?  I asked John what gave him that idea.  Here was his response:

Amanda* used to spend a lot of time with me, mainly talking about my projects and what good performance looked like to her.  I felt very supported.  One of the things she said about her management style was that she believed in the philosophy of spending more time with the talented staff, because that’s how she could best develop them for success.   I think she may have even said that she doesn’t waste her time trying to develop people who won’t or don’t want to be successful in their roles.

These days, Amanda hardly has time of day for me.  Last week, I wanted her input on a big decision on my project, and she gave me the “bum rush”!  She said that she didn’t have time right then to discuss it and told me to make whatever decision I thought was best.  I know she thinks I’m a waste of time.

That’s quite the mind read, isn’t it?

John’s fieldwork assignment from me that week was to talk this out with Amanda.  Turns out, Amanda was positively stunned at the way John had interpreted that exchange.   She thought John was doing a great job and wanted him to be more independent at making decisions.  She thought she was giving him the space to regain his confidence and to shine.  And, regarding the “bum rush” – Amanda was annoyed about an email she’d just read as John came into her office and needed to respond right away.  Her demeanor had nothing to do with him at all.

How might Amanda have used those 126 bits differently so that John interpreted her communication the same way Amanda intended to give it?

We know from Ray Birdwhitsell’s 1970 study that we interpret communication first by body language (55%), tone (38%) and words (7%).   The answer lies there.

By the way, John was promoted that year, less than 10 months after he’d been released from his performance plan.   His vivid epiphany was that he wasn’t a very good mind reader :)

Be Your Best You Today,

Carolann Jacobs

* This story was used with the client’s permission and the names were changed to protect client confidentiality.

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