Life Lessons

10 Lessons I have Learned. Lesson 5 – Creating Context

My life has been a space of perpetual learning. Here are a few of the key lessons, of the thousands I have logged over the years.

This is how you change outcomes of situations. You cannot control people or outcomes. All energy spent in that pursuit is wasted. I spent far too much of my life trying to control…. What a waste of time and energy!

Imagine a colleague with whom you have a very challenging relationship, the person who makes the most innocuous conversation tense and uncomfortable. Regardless of the topic, this person opposes you and approaches things as an adversary rather than an ally.

Once you can visualize that person vividly, imagine the following scenario: You’re sitting at your desk working away when a message from that person pops up on your screen. You open the message and it reads: “I have the draft presentation you sent. I caught a couple of mistakes, and I have some ideas for how to make it better. I’ll drop by your office at 3 pm to discuss.”

How does that email make you feel?  angry, defensive, or anxious? Are you suddenly looking for an excuse to be out of the office at 3 pm? All of those are very common reactions. Many people would think, “What a jerk, looking for mistakes in my presentation!” or “Yeah, I BET she has a few ideas — she thinks she’s so smart!”

Now, wipe that person out of your mind. Instead, conjure up the colleague with whom you get along really well, the person who always has your back. This is the person you go to when you want to collaborate on an important issue. Once you have that person in mind, imagine this scenario: You’re sitting at your desk working away when a message from the person pops up on your screen. You open the message and it reads: “I have the draft presentation you sent. I caught a couple of mistakes, and I have some ideas for how to make it better. I’ll drop by your office at 3 pm to discuss.”

Now how do you feel? Relieved? Grateful? You’re probably interested in and looking forward to the conversation. You may even fill up the sweetie dish on your desk in anticipation.

What do you notice about the email?

They are IDENTICAL. But the outcomes of the two meetings will be very different.

The perceptions about the two people, dictate the energy you take into the meetings, dictate your attitude, openness and acceptance.

That’s how profoundly your assumptions and prejudices affect your perceptions. What’s worse is that if you consider how differently the meeting at 3 pm will go, the exact same message from two different people leads to radically different outcomes.

In the meeting with the supposed adversary, you have created a context where you assume the worst, and perhaps without even realizing it, your mind-set, your response, and especially your body language become negative and resistant. Seeing your behaviour, your colleague gets defensive and hostile in return, which begets (and justifies) more deeply adversarial behaviour from you, and so on. The result is that you both shut down, trust erodes, and the organization loses a chance to get a better outcome.

In stark contrast, in the meeting with your perceived ally, you set the context to assume the best, and your words and actions demonstrate openness and even enthusiasm for the ideas. You share and learn, the quality of the work improves, and the trust between you grows.

How to do this: Tune in to how you are feeling e.g. angry; Consciously choose the opposite. Both exist in your mind. Your thoughts are what is making you unhappy. Change your thoughts. Take your brain to the gym. Practice new thoughts until they are just how you think.

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