Sandy unlocked and opened the driver's side door, pushed the button to unlock the passenger door for Ed, and they both hopped into the car. They buckled up silently, while Sandy started the engine, put the car in gear, and moved out of the parking space toward the parking lot exit. Sandy felt it was best to wait for Ed to speak.
Finally, Ed did. "Well, at least it's over."
Sandy tried to be both supportive and honest. It was difficult: "Yes, it is over."
More silence. At a stoplight, Ed added, "If Alton hadn't made me so nervous, I could have explained the problem more clearly."
Ed's model of what went wrong is that Alton's actions made him nervous, and that caused his failure to perform. Perhaps. But we hear these explanations more often than they actually apply. Here are some other similar explanations:
- My boss is driving me nuts
- You made me so mad
- She destroyed my self-esteem
- I couldn't get a word in edgewise
- He left me no choice
In most cases,
are invalidIn most cases, these explanations are invalid. Let's suppose that Ed believes that his boss is driving him nuts. Unless his boss has him incarcerated or physically restrained, it's an unlikely scenario. To actually drive someone nuts requires great skill and significant time and resources.
It's more likely that his boss is doing some things that are pretty abusive, and that Ed is using those things to drive himself nuts. If that's what's happening, all Ed has to do to keep from going nuts is to stop doing that.
When we tell ourselves that someone else is doing it, we're telling our brains to look in the wrong place for the cause. That way, we can do what we want to ourselves without getting caught at it.
In a strange way, believing that other people have direct control over us is very liberating. It frees us to harm ourselves without feeling guilty or stupid about doing it. So for instance, if my boss is saying horrible things about me in front of others, I can use that to destroy my own self-esteem, and gain an excuse to eat cheeseburgers with fries, which is what I really wanted to do. Then I can blame my boss for making me sick and fat. The reality is much simpler: I ate the cheeseburgers myself. And the fries.
And there's another neat trick — we not only relieve ourselves of responsibility for our own actions, but we also "escape" responsibility for dealing with the consequences.
I have a small metal mirror on my desk. It's a memento with other meanings, but it also reminds me that when I want to shift responsibility to others, I ought to check my own choices first. If you get something similar for yourself, please don't think I made you do it. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
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tempers can flare on both sides. But if we keep in mind two ideas, we can reduce the effects of message
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.