December 11, 2017

How do you tell if you are over-contributing?

Mid sized audienceIt seems our fellow workshop participant thinks what she has to say is more important than the organised speaker’s material.

It’s a smallish group admittedly, but the rest of us are there principally to hear what the workshop leader has to offer. Some contributions from the floor are welcome, but not so many or so long that they dominate.

Unfortunately, our fellow participant doesn’t seem to realise she’s over-doing it. Not for the first time, one suspects.

Later it’s clear that the others present all have the same experience of the person. One says “I thought it was just me.” It wasn’t.

A danger for all of us…

So how do you judge when you’ve made the right amount of contribution—enough to be helpful but not so much as to get in the way?

Something about leaving others wanting more, perhaps?

You can tell that from their faces, if you look.

What do you see in others, what’s it telling you about yourself?

Mirror“O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!” as Robert Burns implored.

Well that Power did give us the gift. The question is whether we choose to use it. The gift can be expressed in various ways: Carl Jung talked about “projection” meaning we project onto other people things we are not acknowledging about ourselves. Typically, we have a reaction to a behavior we see in others that we like or dislike and comment upon it, as if it’s completely external to ourselves.

It isn’t.

“If you can spot it, you’ve got it,” as they say. How come? Well, it stems from our brains being above all pattern recognizers. Our brains notice things outside that we have coded inside. If we haven’t got the structure inside, we can’t see it on the outside. The technical name for the neural process is “Reticular Activation System.”

Don’t worry: You’ll see it when you believe it. Suspend disbelief and look for a while. You’ll see other people commenting on behavior in others you know they exhibit themselves. Guess what: You do that too.

This feature of how we function is great for learning about ourselves and making changes accordingly – reinforcing what we like and altering what we don’t like.

Here’s the takeaway…

When you notice yourself responding to someone else’s behavior, realize you are seeing yourself in them. What’s that telling you? How does the pattern fit you also?

What’s your experience of this gift we have?

What can we learn from a stalled career?

Carol still applies for senior jobs that come up, but she’s lost count of the interviews she’s been to over the years only to be disappointed. She doesn’t tell her family anymore when she’s in the running for a new position. They can tell though.

Carol’s well-qualified, with plenty of relevant experience and good results to show for it. Her face just doesn’t seem to fit. That’s what she tells herself anyway, not noticing her victim mindset. The self-talk keeps her self-esteem up.

If nothing changes, she’ll see out the rest of her career at  her current level.

But wait, maybe the explanation is all wrong…

Maybe it’s because her attention is mostly on herself; maybe she doesn’t hear other people out; maybe she doesn’t focus on what’s important for them. I may be wrong, but that is my personal experience of her. Perhaps the interviewers somehow sense that Carol could be difficult to work with – focused on her own issues and oblivious to theirs.

It’s likely others experience Carol as not really attending to other people, but do any of them ever tell her? I doubt it. So they help sustain her misconception about her lack of advancement.

I’m complicit too…

I haven’t told her my hunch about what may be holding her back. I feel I don’t know her well enough.

And so Carol carries on with her behavior, oblivious to what’s holding her back, and what other people can see.

So what’s my takeaway?

Well, there’s the obvious one: “Attending to others” (listening and more) is a vital behavior. That’s a reminder for me too, having failed to do this with a friend recently.

But there’s a bigger learning…

We can’t depend on other people telling us what we’re doing wrong, even if they can see it.

So we need to develop our own self-awareness and sensitivity to feedback. We need an attitude of personal mastery – an openness to learning about how we interact with other people.

How do you tackle this? How do you track your own effectiveness