It is a skill set all by itself - the ability to see a variety of possible intentions from people’s actions.
Life has led us to have a fairly immediate first take - for some of us we see and interpret other people’s actions through rose-colored lenses. Some of us see the darker side or the skeptical perspective.
Here’s the problem - we look at a behavior, usually, and make assessments about motivation and attitude.
It’s pretty hard to know the sum total of someone’s heart by their actions. We can make good guesses, but they are just that, guesses.
Cross-cultural communication gives us wonderful glimpses in to how wrong we can be when using behavior to make assumptions about core values, motivations and thinking.
Even patterns that we see in someone else that lead us to feel justified in drawing the conclusions that we do, are still often built on the assumptions that we are making. The thing about assumptions is that we don’t usually know we are making them, obviously.
So, what are the options?
1. First, obviously, whenever possible, an open conversation where the parties concerned have a chance to explain, elaborate, etc. is ideal. If you are initiating this kind of conversation, then come with an open mind and a determination to look deeper, below the surface for other motivations, insecurities, different thinking and reasoning.
2. Secondly, take time to simply brainstorm a variety of reasons why someone might be behaving the way they are. Whichever end of the spectrum you tend towards, try to come up with at least 5 possible scenarios that explain that person’s behavior. It’s okay if some of these are ludicrous, that can actually help too.
3. Acknowledge to yourself, and anyone else in the discussion, what your frequent bias is. (I tend to see the best in people and so have to work at acknowledging that sometimes motivations are self-serving or self-protecting.)
4. Work more for solutions on how to move forward versus detangling who to blame and why. Sometimes digging really deep on motivations is not even necessary. So long as you can all agree on how to move forward productively you may be able to just assume the best of each other, expecting creative solutions for moving forward.
5. Instead of seeing the other party as your opponent, being able to use language that discusses the barrier as it’s own entity goes a long way. When you can stop seeing the other person’s behavior as the problem and instead see the result of shared behavior as the issue then you can put your heads together to solve it.
When we partner with the person who thinks differently than we do when working towards a solution we get much more creative and effective strategies!
Who might you be seeing through lenses that are not giving you enough clarity?
Where are the frustrating blocks in work flow that could be improved by some shared brainstorming?
Until next time,
Marilyn Orr, MA, CEC, PCC is an Executive and Leadership Coach with Capacity Building Coaching, holding her Professional Certified Coach designation with the International Coach Federation.
Marilyn provides professional coaching for executive and business leaders, mentor coaching for coaches, and leadership development support in the form of coaching skills training and soft-skills development.
Marilyn is author of everyday resiliency workbook “How Absorbent Are Your Shocks?”, available on Amazon. Subscribe to “Marilyn’s Musings” twice monthly blogposts for more leadership and professional development content.