This morning I saw a mid-size pickup run a red light. Not a ‘just went from yellow to red’, red light. A ‘had been red so long I didn’t see it change’ red light. Lucky for him the person crossing the intersection was paying attention and hit the brakes. I don’t think the guy in the truck even realized he was about three feet from having a really, really bad day.
Care to imagine what the person in the car who had the right of way thinking? We’ll keep in clean and say they drove way thinking, “What an idiot”.
It is an interesting habit of human nature; we always assign a why to things. If you have ever been around a toddler you know how often they ask “Why?” As we become adults we stop asking and if we don’t know why (which we usually don’t) we make it up. In the example above, why did the pickup run the light? “The driver is an idiot! What other reason could there be?” Actually, there are a million likely reasons that have nothing to do with the guy’s IQ. Among them – he just became a new father and is driving home from the hospital exhausted. Maybe he just closed a huge deal and is thinking about telling his wife. He simply wasn’t paying attention. Have you ever run a red light? I have made that mistake before and I don’t think I’m an idiot.
Saying someone is an idiot is a negative, permanent and personal attribution. The other reasons I listed are neutral, short term and situation specific. When we attach a why to someone else’s behavior we tend to make it about them as a person, something they are and always will be. But when we think about the why’s of our own behavior it is usually situation specific.
How does that apply to interactions with your teammates? Lots and lots I tell you! When someone does a poor job of bringing up a tough subject and you start to feel attacked you are making up a negative why. When you attached a negative to them as a person it will cloud how you view them in the future. If they were able to start out by saying “I care about you and you are important to me so I want to talk to you about this issue.” They would be telling you why, you wouldn’t make it up and even if the conversation that followed was hard you would be better teammates for it.
So the next time someone does or says something that annoys you, try to catch yourself as you make up why. Instead of inventing it out of thin air, ask and then listen. Or in the very least try assuming something positive. Remember you can not observe why someone feels the way they do, only the symptoms (what and how) of those feelings and it is very likely you will misinterpret what you see.
What examples do you have of someone assuming they can observe why and coming to a negative conclusion? I know there are lots of you reading these post because I get your emails. Go ahead and leave your comments here!
Next week we are going to talk about how shooting the messenger shuts down future conversations. I bet you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Don’t miss it!
If you missed Managing Burnout last week you can make up for it here.