Filters or augmenters?

At a leadership development workshop, a participant had the realisation that when we see something ‘As it is’ (as if recorded by a machine), it is not simply a matter of us filtering out what we do not want to see, we also create what we want to see. Through the distorted filter of our fears and fantasies, we change and augment what is available thus creating our very own experience.

This process may not matter too much except that we then act upon what we have created in our head. We treat it as if it were real which leads to the creation of ‘the next moment’ and another bunch of assumptions (unique to us) about what happened.

Words do matter

Some time ago I was invited to visit a local prison – just for the day you understand – to talk to staff about a programme they were running for violent inmates. They took me to a large, light and airy room in which they worked with those offenders who had shown an interest in modifying how they behaved.


As I went into the room, I was immediately struck (no, not by one of the offenders) by a large whiteboard with ‘feeling’ words written all over it, words such as, anger, peace, frustration, joy, sympathy, boredom, hate, compassion, hurt, love and so on. I enquired what the words were about and was told that the offenders could not express how they felt because they did not have the vocabulary and were limited to a few phrases such as ‘You piss me off’. Without those words they were stuck in a tight loop of, usually violent, feelings.

Now that phrase ‘You piss me off’ is a critical one because it lies at the centre of how violent offenders justify their behaviour. It forms the basis of what, to the offender, is a perfectly rational sequence: you piss me off, therefore I am the victim and you deserve to be thumped – either verbally or physically. The result of this rather twisted thinking is that the actual assailant feels justified in his actions because, in his mind, he was the ‘victim’ and therefore the other person ‘the aggressor’. Makes sense – doesn’t it?

The above scenario begs the question, ‘do things really annoy you or do you just become annoyed?’ And, moreover, is there a decision involved in how you feel – a choice? The difference between the two statements may seem to be a matter of mere semantics, of little relevance in real life but, as I was shown, the difference in outcome can be, and in the case of the offenders was, very serious.

To show how prevalent this thinking is, I recently, read an article entitled ‘10 things that annoy me about…’ well, pretty much everything it seemed. Clearly the writer saw herself as a victim unable to control how she felt even to the extent that the positioning or presence of an inanimate object ‘made’ her angry.

Next time you catch yourself saying ‘S/he made me angry’ (or even more interestingly, ‘It’ made me angry) – ponder whether it is really the case or whether you are allowing others to control how you feel, that you have no choice and see yourself as a victim.

Perhaps the words we use matter after all – especially if we repeat them to the point at which, at some deeper level, we believe them to be true.

Notwithstanding all the philosophical or biological arguments, the bottom line for me is that I cannot abide the notion of someone else controlling how I feel.

Are women better communicators?

At leadership workshops (usually quietly and to one side of the main discussion), I have been asked “Do you think women are better communicators than men?”

Meeting - blog 3

As you may well imagine, even at the best of times, straying into this area by expressing an opinion one way or the other would be fraught with danger. However, the questions led me to think back to the many people with whom I have worked in leadership programmes and the many stories that have been related to me about workplace and personal situations.

After pondering the question I came to the conclusion that I could not say whether women, as a group, were better (or worse) than men. Furthermore, I realised that many men were far better communicators than many women and that many women were far better communicators than many men. Put another way, I came to the general conclusion that the differences within each gender are greater than the differences between them.

Focusing on the differences within each gender being greater than those between the genders takes the potential heat out of discussions by shifting the focus onto individual action – with the possible bonus that the effort required to change your viewpoint is probably less than that required to change your gender.

Short story: ‘The difference within… ’ approach can be usefully applied to any situation in which you want to move the focus from the stereotype to the individual.


Uncomfortable about giving feedback?

If you feel uncomfortable when giving feedback (especially negative), it is the result of your ‘internal connections’, your self-talk. Treat this as an opportunity to examine the filters/beliefs that you hold around giving feedback, for example, ‘I might make them angry’ – forgetting that it is their choice whether or not they get angry and your responsibility to act appropriately.

It may be useful to re-consider your underlying purpose in giving the feedback and for whose benefit it is being given? Is it to assist or to ‘have a dig’? Is the feedback wanted?