When Our Assumptions Lead Us Astray

How often are we in situations where what we want and what others want are not aligned? We make assumptions daily, mostly about other people. These assumptions enable us to take shortcuts, and at the same time, they cause disagreement that perhaps wasn’t there to begin with.

  • We assume a person attended or didn’t attend an event because…
  • We assume a person responded to us a certain way because…
  • We assume a person took action or didn’t take action because…

What if, instead of assuming, we paused and asked:

  • What is the reason you made this choice or took this action?
  • When your customer complains about “service,” do you probe to understand what is really going on?
  • As the TSA reminds us when we see something, do we say something?
  • When an employee behaves a certain way, do we ask what is really going on?

No One Is Coming

Years ago, a friend said this to me. Her comment profoundly impacted me, and when I recently read this line in a book, I called her. After we talked about our memories of that conversation, she asked me if I would write about it, and I agreed.

No one is coming. What does this even mean? 

The great thing about this comment is that you can interpret it in your way. When I heard it the first time from my friend, the message I heard was that no one would fix this for me, and no one was going to rescue me or the situation. It’s up to me to choose to be a victim or choose to take action.

 I was at a career crossroads. My friend happened to call me one day when I was sitting on my back porch, ruminating. I was frustrated about my situation and wanted it to be different. Until my conversation with her, my focus was on how to change my circumstance. Instead of seeing a bigger picture and possible alternatives, I was narrowly focused on finding a solution to what was.

I shared the story with her, and she shared one of her own, and then she flatly stated, “no one is coming.” At first, I was taken aback by her comment, yet her words caused me to pause and evaluate. After some reflection time, I realized she was right, no one was coming, and it was time for me to choose. 

Embarking on a pivot of my own led to creating The You Pivot™ Program, which enabled me to continue my mission of inspiring others toward action so that they can achieve the results that matter to them. 

P.S. Today, whenever I feel frustrated and powerless in a situation, I remember my friend’s words and remind myself, No one is coming.

Is it the being or the doing that makes us uncomfortable?

How often do we hear people say that they embrace diversity and then behave another way? As Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying, “What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear your words.” 

My sense is this happens because embracing diversity is easy most of the time. It’s not when folks are different from us; it’s when folks do something different that we feel challenged.

As leaders, it is our job to create an environment where everyone feels included so that we can successfully optimize our common organizational goals. At the same time, in these polarized times, leaders are increasingly finding team members looking for those “doing differences.”

What to do when we find these doing differences? 

I remember once we invited two couples for dinner, and we were surprised when we opened the door, and one of the couples brought with them someone we didn’t know. They introduced the guest as a family member visiting from out of town. We set another place at the table and politely didn’t say anything, hoping the expressions on our faces didn’t reveal our surprise. 

After they left, we talked about how inappropriate we thought they were to bring someone without asking or at least telling us. Later on, we remembered that there were always extra people at the table when we had been to their house. It was the custom in their culture to include everyone in a meal, so it didn’t occur to them to ask.

The questions that come to mind for me are:

  • How do we set aside our differences and, at the same time, embrace them so that our organizations benefit from the broader thinking that diversity brings?
  • How do we know when to confront behavior that seems in conflict with what we are accustomed to or when to leave it be because the behavior results from life differences rather actual conflict?

Listen, Please

As leaders, we are problem solvers. Problem-solving is a crucial strength required in a leader. And yet, sometimes, the best solution is to simply listen.

When I first began working as an executive coach, I believed that my role was always to motivate my client toward action. While I still believe action is required to achieve results, I have also learned that, and often have to remind myself, that sometimes, it’s best to just listen.

Sometimes all a person wants is the opportunity to think out loud. And for us, as the listener, to do just that. To simply listen, not offer advice, perhaps ask a question or two and then allow them to sit with their own questions, their own reflections, and come to their own answers. 

Sometimes being heard is enough. Perhaps at a later date, it’s time for action.

Optimize vs. Maximize

When I googled optimize vs maximize, I found this comparison “Maximize is about raw return, about getting maximum revenues and profits. Optimize is about ROI—seeking results relative to the investment required.

So why would we ever choose to maximize? Yet some of us default to the maximize choice without even thinking about the difference.

  • How often do we notice something, point it out, and then regret it later, wishing we had kept quiet? 
  • How often do we wait for more or better information and miss an opportunity?

There is both a time factor and a human factor to optimizing ROI. We often wait too long and strive for that final 5%, hoping to have perfect info upon which to base our decision. 

Or, instead of building up the confidence of the person doing the job, we ask for one more change, one more fix, and lose the opportunity to show appreciation for what the person has already accomplished.

In our quest for excellence, we sometimes forget that perfection and excellence are not the same, that excellence can be knowing what to accept as good enough and what to overlook.

Here’s an idea.

Today, instead of looking around and noticing what is missing, what if:

  • You look instead for what is right?
  • You see a critical item that is working and give someone specific, positive feedback?
  • You decide to overlook something that may be good enough given its relative importance, even if it isn’t exactly what you wanted?

What Does Spring Mean For You?

The first official day of spring was two weeks ago, and today in Chicago, the high is expected to reach 43° brrr. Yet, spring is in the air.  

We see it in the bulbs sticking their flowers up through the dirt, in the longer days, and in the hopeful attitudes and smiles of people we meet. It’s almost here, we exclaim!

Each season marks the passage of time, and each spring, we celebrate an awakening. For some, it is a time for beginning. For others, it is a reminder that there is a time for every season, both darkness and light.  Still, others consider how many or how few springs they may have left. 

  • What does spring mean to you?
  • What are you grateful for with the coming of spring this year? 
  • Is there something you want to begin for the first time or begin again?

Reduce Your Choices

How often do we pause during a day and ask ourselves, “what was my intention today? What did I want to accomplish?” 

  • What if, instead, discipline became a habit? 
  • What if, instead, we gave ourselves fewer choices each day?
  • What if, instead, we prescribed our day such that we spent more time on action and less on deciding?

According to Tony Schwartz, author of Why You Need to Make Your Life More Automatic, “the more conscious willpower we have to exert each day, the less energy we have leftover to resist our brain’s primitive and powerful pull to instant gratification.”  

Conversely, the more of our key behaviors we can put under the automatic and more efficient control of habit — by building something he calls “Energy Rituals” — the more likely we are to accomplish the things that truly matter to us.

And the fewer decisions we have to make, the more likely we are to make better decisions. This sobering story, Do You Suffer from Decision Fatigue? by John Tierney, drives home both the value and the societal impact of leaders choosing to make fewer choices. 

So how do you get started? Begin by slowing down. Then decide your priorities and make those a daily habit. With the remaining time, reduce your choices. The counterintuitive result is by doing less, we accomplish more. 

Good Intentions

One of the key things we learn as coaches is the Socratic Method. Stay in a questioning mode and let people come to their own answers.

Most humans want to make a difference and have an impact on others. Sometimes when we want to be in service, it is tempting to tell others what they need to do. And, yet, the impact of giving advice can often have the exact opposite result.

The thing is, we all hear through our own filter. And sometimes, what we intend and what is heard are often not the same.

I have learned, and continue to learn, the hidden benefit of questioning, i.e., our filter becomes visible.

Telling is passive; I can choose to take it in or not; I can react or not.

On the other hand, when I am asked a question, the engagement is active. I am a participant, and I have the opportunity to pause and consider rather than react and respond.

No surprise that Socrates had the influence he did as a man of few words.