Sunday, June 25, 2017

Truth is a team sport

When you need to base a choice on the truth, how do you find it? Most of us believe that we let real information - facts - drive our decision making. Some scientists suggest that we are much more likely to be moved by emotions and suggestions than we are by information. They make these claims as if it is possible to find facts, know the truth, and weigh different options objectively. This may be true in books or in laboratories. It is seldom true where you work or where you live.

What is more likely is that you often find yourself faced with choices where the truth is impossible to determine. We are bad at predicting the future, and yet we have to make decisions every day that depend on knowing how people will act and react before they have done either. This is true for coaches, teachers, sales people, and business leaders. It’s true for everyone who wants to shape the future and not just react to what has already happened.

So how do we do it? It’s clear that people make choices every day without having access to the right information, and somehow, most of those choices work out okay. Maybe there’s a way to work with the truth that doesn’t involve a logical organization of facts.

Think about a typical situation where you have to decide whether something represents a distraction or an opportunity. There’s no way to be sure: that’s why you have to think about how to make a choice. Your thinking will be coloured by the experience of people you know, by stories you have heard, and by your own past experiences. Your thinking is also coloured by what you know of the people around you and how they will respond to whatever you decide. Although the decision may be up to you, there is a whole team
 in your head weighing in on what might be useful.

So what pops up for you? It might be a strong feeling one way or another. Or it might be a feeling that you have to guess: that you won’t know until you try something. Whatever pops is not a factual representation of the situation you face, but it’s also not isolated from real experience. It’s more like an intuition how to put together everything you know about how to make such a decision. And it’s based on your real experience, and the real knowledge and experience of everyone whose thought has touched yours.

What drives your choice might not look like facts, but that might be because you expect a fact to be a singular point, the focus of a single point of view. Truth might not look like a distinct fact. It might look more like a composition that depends on dozens of points of view processing slightly different information. Think about the voices you are including in the advisory team that’s working in your head. Do they represent the best team you can put together to deal with the situation where you need to choose? If not, pick some better team-mates and then make your best guess.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Seeds to Grow Your Confidence

When I am teaching, I will often sit with my back to the park so that everyone who is listening to me is also looking at things that move and grow. This is not a distraction from my point: it is a way to suggest that the point of what I teach is for people to move and grow.

One of the things that people hope to grow through my training is confidence. Confidence is not something you grow from a seed: it does not start out small and gradually increase in size and complexity the way a tree does. Confidence is a side-effect. To grow it, you have to create the right conditions. The seeds you use are not confidence seeds: they are usually seeds that look and feel entirely different than the confidence they eventually generate.

For instance, a seed of courage will often produce some confidence eventually. While you are nurturing courage, you feel the opposite of confident. You might feel shaky, scared, anxious or afraid. If things were easy, you would not need courage. Courage appears when you face fear and keep going. And after the moment is passed, courage will often leave confidence in its wake.

Another seed that leads to courage is called will power. Will power is not sexy and attractive and confident. Will power is the determination to do something hard, or to do something repeatedly. We all have a limited supply of will power, and the only way to grow more is to use up what we have. When we go through the false starts and the missteps and the backsliding and make will power stick, we often find that confidence has shown up, too.

You will also find confidence growing in the aftermath of the kind of caring that leaps up and takes action because something has to be done and you are the person with the best shot at doing something to help someone in need. This is not caring about: caring about is often something that happens in our heads or hearts but does not change us very much. This is caring for, taking action to make something better for someone else. It often involves inconvenience and uncertainty and giving up something you would rather be doing. The reward it leaves on your pillow the next morning is a tiny grain of confidence.

Perhaps there is a way to grow confidence with same progress and certainty that turns a maple key into a tall maple tree. But I think it is more likely that confidence grows from paying attention to what we know to be true in ourselves and in the world. I think confidence is a side effect that grows after you do the right thing.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Is it an accident or a failure? The right label matters

This was the view from the training room window on Friday. A very large tree had come down in the park on Thursday night. All day, people stopped to examine the trunk and think about what had happened.

Was it an accident? 

It hadn't been chopped down, so it was clearly not something that had happened on purpose. But to call it an accident suggests that it couldn't have been helped. It also suggests that the rest of the trees are likely to remain standing.

If on the other, hand, it was an infestation, then there is something that needs to happen now. Someone needs to check the rest of the trees. While it's possible that the first tree could fall by accident, if any more fall we will call it something else - something like incompetence or failure or fault.

Sometimes, the label we choose tells us how to act next. If we choose the wrong label, it is likely to lead to the wrong action. Take a moment now to think about a problem or issue you have been facing. Give it a one-word label.  Then ask yourself: "Am I sure this is the right label? What else could it be?" And then ask, "If this is the right label, what is my next step?"

You'll find that labels are never neutral: when you label a problem, you also take a step towards fixing it. It's worth giving the problem a name that will help you solve it.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A group can help you build a bridge from your present to a more satisfying future

Reflection is powerful when it is specific and directed at the future. People are often afraid to reflect on their experience because they confuse reflection with beating themselves up for what they did or didn't say or do. They're also afraid that recognizing what is good in the present will somehow stop them from making change.

This is a reflex that keeps people stuck in old patterns. They may be thinking about the future, but they aren't building the bridge they need to get from here to there. The results are daydreams, wishes, and dissatisfaction without motivation.

The group above is finishing up a process that began with connecting to their curiosity and energy and then moved through going deeply, vividly into their lived experience. They were reflecting not just when they were sitting and writing privately, but also when they were asking questions, remembering, and laughing together. The group experience drew them into a kind of reflection that is often difficult to do on your own.

If you think that reflection is quiet and private, challenge that assumption. It's the same assumption that tells you to "think about it later." It's a wolf dressed up to look like common sense. Reflection is hard work: it's best done with support, laughter and shared energy. When you have a clearer sense of what is working for you in the present, you'll also have what you need to build a bridge into a more satisfying future.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Can you analyze and agree at the same time?

What do these words mean to you? The Meta Model classifies them as distortions and generalizations. But to the people who put them on these sticky notes, they represented a very specific shared experience.

Part of the reputation of NLP was established by its approach to language. The Meta Model promises to help you look beneath what people are saying to discover what they really mean. It's based on understanding language as a distortion of reality.

Even if it were accurate (I wouldn't argue that), it's a framing that is almost bound to get you into trouble unless you remember one cardinal rule (most people don't). The rule is this: you can only dig deeper with permission and you can only tell you have permission when you are spending most of your attention building agreement.

As a coach, I sometimes work with high performers on analyzing their patterns of thought or behaviour so that we can identify leverage points for change. This is stressful, but the stress is tolerated by high performers because they are expert enough to assume that there will be points they can strengthen and determined enough to manage the stress in pursuit of improvement.

If you're not dealing with an expert, continually prodding at someone's language is likely to destroy rapport and result in a "challenge" to a "distortion" being met as challenges are usually met: with equal and opposite energy.

Language works best when you are willing to explore how it takes experience and creates a word that allows us to pull that experience into awareness when it will be helpful. The word is a handle, not a mirror. Within a context of shared exploration, the meta model and other analytical tools can be used with a light touch to develop more specific shared understanding.

Most of the time, this is not what people want from the meta model. They are looking for a tool that allows them to reveal what someone else has hidden or distorted. It makes the person being modelled feel self-conscious at best and attacked at worst. 

Like fire and sharp knives, it should be used carefully.