December 10, 2020

What are You Looking For?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I have a reminder pop up in my task manager (OmniFocus) every few days with this quote from John Lubbock:

"What we see depends mainly on what we look for."

I use this pop-up to remind me not to get trapped into a confirmation bias mode. What the heck is that?

Confirmation bias is when we interpret new information in light of previous assumptions, beliefs, biases, opinions or theories. Our interpretation may be accurate, but can often be wildly inaccurate.

Often, we build a "clever story" (thank you Crucial Conversations) around people (including ourselves) based on some preconceived notion about our own ideas about their motives, who they are, what they are. We then look for evidence to support those notions. While we may find that evidence, and seize on it, we often ignore the details that may give us a different view. The benefit of the doubt goes out the window. Once we settle on this view, it skews our whole view of people and situations, and sometimes induces us to irritation or even outrage.

Crucial Conversations introduces 3 such clever stories which "propel our emotions and help us justify our behavior."

Victim - I'm an innocent person in whatever's going on.

Villain - It's all them! They're just evil.

Helpless - Woe is me! There's nothing I can do!

The book (and workshop) suggests that, when we get stuck into the clever story mode, there are antidotes. We should ask ourselves:

  • "What am I pretending not to notice about my role in the problem?" I love the word pretending here!
  • "Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do this?" Indeed! Here's where we should begin by assuming positive intent.
  • "What should I do right now to move toward what I really want?" I am enabled to pursue solutions - not just to wallow in our helplessness. Move from a "scarcity mentality" to an "abundance mentality" (thank you Stephen Covey!).

I once worked with a very skilled and competent colleague who often would come to me with concerns about others on the team. Many times those were based around a series of perceived slights around which clever stories formed. Over time these built up and led to extremely strained relationships with others on the team, and harmed team effectiveness.

Through coaching, my colleague began to recognize when he began to tell himself a clever story about others on the team. He began to apply the antidotes above, which naturally led to better results. Assuming positive intent seemed to be the most powerful mindset shift.

Where are you or your team stuck? Are you only looking for things that confirm the story you've told yourself, or are you intentionally working to tell the rest of the story?

Want to know more? Need help building these skills, or want a leadership or communications workshop for your team? Let me know!

If you like what you heard about Crucial Conversations you can click on the picture below to order the book.

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