Have you ever thought about how you deal with other people? Would their opinion of an interaction with you differ from yours? Sasha Ogden, Change Architect for Marbral Advisory, explains that to get the best out of your teams and projects, you may need to start looking through an entirely different lens.
Think about how many interpersonal relationships and social interactions you have a day. Not every interaction is the same, or easy. What if there was a problem, a problem that you couldn’t see, unless, you looked through a new lens.
Self-deception is arguably the most damaging problem in an organisation. It is at the root of “people problems”, screening our judgement and the reality around us, even sabotaging our motivations. It is fundamentally the inability to see that one has a problem.
It is so easy these days to get caught up and lose sight of who is at the other end of our transaction. When we are trapped in self-deception, we act in ways that are contrary to what we feel. For instance, we can deceive ourselves in many ways – like promising to change our behaviour and not eat that last chocolate bar, knowing it was a promise that we could never keep. Relational self-deception is common and when we fall short of considering that people have their own needs and values, and act against our own values, we put ourselves into the “box”.*
Are you in the box?
To illustrate this concept, you have finished a long day at work, and you are relieved to get the back window seat on the bus home, people are still queuing outside, and you decide to put your bag on the seat next to you, to make the seat look as undesirable as possible. What was your outward behaviour? How were you seeing the people who were looking for seats? As threats, problems, objects? Is it the case that your needs counted and everyone else’s were secondary?
If all people have comparable hopes, needs, cares and fears, then your behaviour on the bus could be viewed as ‘entitled’ to those looking for seats, and that they were viewed as somehow inferior and less worthy with desires less legitimate than yours. You are self-deceived.
You are in the box.
So, how does this relate to our working life and is it really important?
According to the latest forecast by Gartner, Inc, worldwide IT spending is set to reach $4 trillion in 2021, an increase of 8.4% from 2020. Businesses are executing a fine balancing act between performance, cost efficiency and an expanding digital infrastructure, led by projects, to implement changes across the piste. With all this change and transformation occurring, how much time is actually left over to focus on self-reflection and positive people management?
Let’s say, hypothetically, you have just been assigned to lead a £25m project with a cross-functional team, and it is your responsibility to achieve results. It’s now two weeks in and already Karen is resisting the change and trying to sabotage the project by negatively influencing others. If you are in the box, you would most likely get frustrated and see Karen as the problem, try to change her behaviour – even threaten to sack her. This is the lens of self-deception.
It is important to recognise, that being in the box does not mean that Karen’s behaviour does not need to improve, but the message needs to be delivered out of the box. Change resistance is the norm and unless you train your team to be agile, manage their expectations and bring them on the change journey you are going to create lots more Karens!
To get out of the box, you need to self-reflect…” How do you view your team members? How do they view you? Have you inflated your thoughts: I work the hardest, I stay the latest? Have you inflated your team members: they’re lazy, they don’t have the same level of commitment? Do your behaviours match your intentions?”
If you inflate other people’s faults and at the same time inflate your own virtue, you will end up justifying your thoughts and behaviours and heading down the path of self-betrayal. Self-deception can be a vicious circle when you don’t see people for who they are, you end up provoking and criticising, and don’t accept that you’re the problem. It’s a circle that can lead to endless self-justification – everything is distorted.
In the box, you can’t focus on results because you are focused on yourself. In an organisation, this can be damaging and trigger the invitation of mutual mistreatment and justification, which colludes one another with reasons to stay in the box. In this scenario, people who originally came together to help an organisation succeed, actually end up relishing in each other’s failures and resenting each other’s successes.
When you are out of the box – you see yourself and others more or less as we are – as people. When there is a problem, the emphasis should not be on what someone is doing wrong but rather focus on what needs to be done to help.
Lifting the blame curtain
As leaders – of a company, of a project, of our own life – we typically are our own biggest problem. Rarely does a leader take an introspective moment to try and discover if they are part of a wider problem. When we lift that curtain of blame, we open ourselves to more respectful and inspired ways to respond to situations or problems.
Being out of the box is the influential factor for success in our interpersonal relationships and social interactions. By having awareness, we can improve our leadership skills and inspire others to treat each other as equals – as people.
How firmly are you in the box?
Marbral Advisory is a leading Change Management firm. The local company offers change and advisory services and resourcing, plus e-learning and training courses to help clients plan, lead, drive and embed change in their organisations. For more information on Marbral Advisory, please visit their website: www.marbraladvisory.com
*Concept derived from the book, ‘Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting out of the Box - The Arbinger Institute’