Have you ever had an email that has annoyed you? Or been in a meeting with someone who constantly talked over you? Or has someone had a go at you for no reason? Even if those things haven’t happened to you (although I would defy anyone to say they haven’t had someone talk over them) then I’m sure there has been an occasion when you have felt wronged or disappointed or you may even actually dislike someone. Well I read a Linked in post last week that reminded me of a couple of strategies you can call upon to deal with these situations, both of which should leave you feeling very Zen.
Firstly to understand both strategies we have to talk about you, and what makes you the person you are.
When you were born you were a blank canvas. You weren’t programmed to have road rage or feel defensive when someone disagreed with you. These things came to you over time, because over time you developed beliefs, values and memories which made you the person you are. Let me explain.
Whats makes you you
Every second our senses are bombarded by 2 million bits of information and our conscious minds can only handle between 5 and 9, so when you interact with the world your experiences are filtered sub consciously by meta programs. These are like sub routines running in the background to process what you see, hear, feel, taste and smell, and then filter that information. So how do your meta programs help you decide which 5 to 9 pieces of information to pay attention to and act upon?
Well first they delete, distort or generalize the information.
Deletion is when you are selective in your attention. For example if I asked you to look around the room now and count how many red items you can see you would be able to tell me, but in doing so you would “delete” all the other colours, and have no idea how many green items there were.
Distortion is when you misrepresent information as you filter it. Have you ever seen a small tangle of black thread on the floor and jumped thinking it was a spider? That’s distortion.
Generalisation is what allows you to recognize things even though you haven’t seen them before. If I showed you a chair from my house you would still recognize it as a chair even though it’s the first time you’ve seen it.
You will also filter information based on your beliefs and values
Beliefs and Values
Beliefs are formed from memories and are based on what you believe to be facts. They are formed on pre suppositions of how the world is, and you will look for evidence that reinforces that belief. Beliefs are powerful because they can propel you forward to do great things, they can empower you. My dad told me I could succeed at anything if I tried and I believed him. I put 100% into everything I do. Ok, well most things. But if I want something I believe I can get it if I work hard. Beliefs can also hold you back where you tell yourself you can’t speak in public or you couldn’t start a business. These are self limiting beliefs and can be overcome but that’s another subject for another time.
Values give you the sense of what is right and wrong. They are the things we try to live up to and they determine where we invest time and effort because they are important to us. Beliefs hold no emotion, they are just fact based eg the car will get me to the school for pickup, but we feel emotional when the car won’t start and your values tell you that being on time for children is important. Your values may bring you into conflict at work, for example if you value honesty and you see a colleague lying to customers to get sales, or being expected to work late in the office if you value your home life.
So when you experience something that annoys you then your meta programs run, filter the information and help you decide what your response should be and what action you should take.
Strategy #1 – Assume Positive Intent
But there is a principle that says you should “assume positive intent” and what I mean by that is that people generally act with the best of intentions. So if you assume that the person you are interacting with has a positive intent it gives you greater flexibility on how you deal with the situation. Let’s be honest it’s unlikely that the person has set out to annoy you. The more you can assume positive intent the better your relationships will be.
As Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi said in an interview with Fortune Magazine, “My father was an absolutely wonderful human being. From him I learned to always assume positive intent. Whatever anybody says or does, assume positive intent. You will be amazed at how your whole approach to a person or problem becomes very different. When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed. Your emotional quotient goes up because you are no longer almost random in your response. You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, “Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing.“
Of course I have experienced this myself. I once knew someone who I thought was really rude. They spoke over people in meetings and cut them short. I’m guessing that no one is going to think that’s a good behavior but it turns out that person felt it was wasting the other person’s time to let them continue to speak when they knew they knew they were wrong. Ok so a terrible behavior but still done with a positive intention. Once I knew why they were doing it I still thought it was rude and narrow minded on their part but the anger was completely gone. I realised I couldnt change them but I could change my reaction to their behaviour.
Back to the Linkedin post
So what happens if you don’t assume Positive Intent? Well at the beginning I mentioned reading a Linkedin post last week. The person in the Linked in post felt they had failed when, following a bereavement, they offered the client a refund and the client accepted. Based on their meta programs the person posting may have felt the client had accepted the refund because the person wasn’t performing, because that would have been the reason the writer of the post would have accepted the refund. But if you assume positive intent then in this example you may consider the client took the refund to give the writer some time out for their bereavement. Maybe they didn’t want the writer to feel pressured. You might then look for evidence to support it by thinking well if the client had been massively unhappy they would have demanded the refund rather than just taking it when it was offered. Suddenly the failure feels less acute and maybe gratitude towards the client for recognizing the person needed some space? There is always another perspective and if you can be flexible in your response to other peoples’ behavior then you will benefit from it.
Strategy # 2 – Reframing
The second strategy comes from considering why the person may be acting that way. I mentioned at the beginning that your meta programs make sense of what you see and hear and your reaction will be based on the sense they make of it. So when you take a situation you have given meaning to and your meaning is causing you anger or frustration, then by changing your perspective and considering the reasons behind their actions will give you more flexibility in your reactions.
For example, someone who is rude to you in the supermarket because you are standing with your trolley in front of their favourite cereals could elicit anger and equal rudeness from you, or a sheepish apology and a rush to move away, or you could even be upset at the injustice. Your reaction will depend on your own meta programs and your interpretation of their behaviour. But could there be another scenario than the one you are assuming? Maybe the person who has just been rude to you in the supermarket has just lost their job.
Or what about the line manager who constantly checks your work? Maybe they are not micro managing you but are ensuring your work is the best it can be before its presented to the board. Maybe they think you have great potential and want you to be seen in the best light. This process of considering a different view is called Reframing.
So the next time someone sends you an email that makes you feel uncomfortable or says something to you that makes your blood start to boil a little, take a step back. Assume positive intent and if you can’t find the positive in what the person is saying, talk to them. Calmly let them know you don’t understand and open up a dialogue. You will be surprised by what you learn and how much your relationships will improve.