I recently read a book called “Leadership & Self Deception” by the Arbinger Institute. It explains how self-deception is the most pervasive problem in organizations today. It gave some of the following examples of types of people who suffer from self-deception:
- Someone who thinks they know things, when they’re really mistaken.
- Someone who thinks they’re making a positive contribution, when they’re really polluting the workspace with their attitude.
- Someone who feels they are a victim in a conflict situation, when they’re really the perpetrator.
Maybe you’ve suffered from the low self-awareness of people around you.
And if you have, then you know how important it is, especially when it comes to being persuasive, or to refine the way we choose to communicate. Learning how to communicate more consciously might save you a relationship, a partnership, or a hurtful misunderstanding between you and someone you care about.
Now, in my opinion, one of the most thought-provoking insights from this book comes in the form of a conversation between a character named “Bud” and a character named “Tom.” Bud is telling Tom about an argument he had with his wife:
“After a while, Nancy and I had actually worked our ways to opposite sides of the room, I was tiring of our little “discussion,” which was making me late for work, and decided to apologize and put an end to it. I walked over to her and said, “I’m sorry, Nancy,” and bent down to kiss her. “Our lips met, if at all, only for a millisecond. It was the world’s shortest kiss. I didn’t intend it that way, but it was all either of us could muster.” “You don’t mean it,” she said quietly, as I backed slowly away. And she was right, of course.”
—”Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Institute
The reason this story is interesting to me is because I feel like it goes to the heart of many interpersonal conflicts.
Someone feels neglected.
And it might not even be intentional. I’m sure Bud does care about his wife’s wellbeing. However, in that moment, he did not care. And she felt it.
It’s just a story but, doesn’t it make you think about partners in your life? Friendships in your life? Parenting in your life?
All those relationships where caring matters, but where we so often neglect to express it adequately. It’s not hard to link this to the human instinct of having our own needs met; I mean, if someone’s not showing reasonable consideration for your condition, why should you and I reasonably consider theirs? But see, that’s the thinking that often leads us to hurt other people in the way we communicate, even when we do mean well. No one wants to make the first step; no one wants to risk being left out in the cold.
If you try to see things from their perspective, they might take advantage and get comfortable, or they might never learn from their mistakes. Now, the thing is: there is a way to be considerate and get your point across:
Communicate how much you care.
I’ll never forget my high school biology teacher and how he motivated me to improve my scores over my senior year. I had had him during my junior year as well, so he pretty much knew what my “normal” output was. That’s why he reacted so strongly to me getting a pitiful F on the very first test.
I very clearly remember the comment he left on my test paper in red ink: “Get to work!!!!!!!!” (With precisely 8 exclamation marks)
Now, to be honest, under normal circumstances, this approach should not have worked to motivate me at all. I mean I know myself, and this is not the way to do it. But that’s not all he did. I had a good relationship with this teacher in the past, and because he was willing to communicate the following:
- Belief in my potential
- Appreciation for my efforts
— and all of that throughout the year, it ended up working.
Giving to receive.
He wasn’t just being tough that day; in fact, when I realized (over time) how much he truly believed that I could do well, I felt almost obliged to not disappoint him. I thought to myself: “Damn, so he wasn’t just trying to make me look bad? He thinks I can actually “get to work” and do great. Well, I mean I guess…” I realized after a few discussions and certain interactions in class that it wasn’t just tough talk he had for me; rather, it was actually tough love. He appreciated me as a student, respected me as a person, and saw me as one of the “better ones” with just a slight “launch incident.”
Needless to say, I made biology a higher priority that year (over video games), and actually ended up graduating at the top of my class in that subject — all because this teacher had been able to show me the tough love and consideration that I needed to feel motivated. If this experience and the book I mentioned taught me anything, it’s that it’s possible to make a powerful impression on someone without causing an insidious resentful reaction. And it all comes down to your ability to communicate your warm regards and positive expectations for people.
You might recognize their efforts, perhaps acknowledge their past good deeds, and certainly show appreciation for their current efforts. Then you can (safely) crack the whip.
Featured photo credit: Ilya via flickr.com