David Neal discusses the power of narrative and its links with leadership, culture and relevancy.
Leadership and Communication – Where Both Intent and Delivery Matter
David Neal discusses the power of narrative and its links with leadership, culture and relevancy.
Leadership and Communication – Where Both Intent and Delivery Matter
When I was a teenager I had an answer for everything.
I was relatively quick witted (well so I thought) and was able to respond to changing social situations.
On one occasion I was engaged in a semi-heated discussion with my parents, who were challenging me on my lack of commitment to my schooling. I had developed a number of unresourceful habits and had become lazy with some of my subjects. Simply put, I was enjoying partying with my friends and was relying too heavily on my ability to talk my way out of situations (often without any level of substance or depth of thought).
My parents had read the play and were applying pressure on me to be the best that I could be. They wanted me to be able to capitalise on opportunities afforded with my capabilities. I wanted to take the path of least resistance.
They would ask a question and I would provide an excuse. They would ask another question and I would repeat the process. For me it was such an easy and seductive lure to be able to redirect their questions towards other parties, people or systems as opposed to taking the full brunt of accountability associated with poor decisions.
At one point in the discussion my Dad said “how convenient when it is always someone else’s fault.”
I didn’t have an answer. It stopped me in my tracks. He had hit the bullseye and I had no retort.
As it turned out I met them in the middle, applying a slightly increased level of performance and focus (in order to reduce their ever-watchful eye), and I achieved the desired grades to be able to progress into a career of my choice.
With the benefit of hindsight and experience it is evident that my parents had my best interests at heart and were voluntarily engaged in an uncomfortable conversation, to ensure that I didn’t head towards a path of unnecessary turmoil.
The rest is history…
Fast forward in time.
I now work with people and organisations all around the world.
I routinely engage in uncomfortable conversations with people about their personal/professional development, career progression and leadership understanding.
When conducting introductory conversations with people, what stands out to me immediately is their willingness to accept accountability for their circumstances, or not.
Not surprisingly, those that have reached out for coaching or education support are often individuals whom have exhausted their current resources and understanding, and have capitulated. This is not true in all cases, but is evident in most. Simply put, the individual or the team have tried everything they can think of. It hasn’t worked. And, now they are open to new ideas or alternatives.
When this occurs a conversation ensues. From their end, they are exploring and testing to see whether I am someone who has any additional tricks up my sleave that might help them get through this dark patch.
From my perspective, I am hunting for information that will determine if this is a person (or team) that is just going through the paces, or is genuinely trying to help themselves.
The process requires a great deal of open-ended exploratory questions. All of which are geared towards trying to determine their truth, but more importantly determine the degree to which they accept accountability. After hundreds of iterations, I know relatively early whether I am dealing with someone who is just going through the paces, or they are genuinely open to confronting and new ideas that might lead them to different conclusions and outcomes.
The first indicators come in the form of language.
Some start by detailing their story. Their story is constantly fractured by statements like:
· “I couldn’t do anything because they were a bunch of jerks”
· “They made me do ______”
· “They did _____ to me”
Now this has to be closely managed, because some people have experienced some incredibly unfair, unreasonable and unequitable things. Things which can change a person. Fair enough!
But, the distinction lies in the way they frame situations.
For example, Person A might frame their situation by saying:
“I have found myself in a situation which I know is not working for me. I am experiencing tough times in my family life, my job, and my health. I am keen to see where the opportunities exist in order to change what I can in order to head towards a better trajectory.”
This is a world apart from Person B:
“I just got fired from my job because they couldn’t handle the information I was telling them. I don’t think they could deal with the fact that I knew what was going on and they didn’t. My partner is being a real jerk about it too and they are just siding with the business. Everyone else doesn’t just get me and the fact that I know what I am talking about threatens them.”
Now you might think that I am dramatizing for effect. I am not.
Conversations like these are part and parcel with the operating environment for someone in my profession.
Sometimes it is more subtle and nuanced. Sometimes it isn’t.
With more open-ended questions more context emerges.
The context and the personality of the person will determine whether coaching is a viable option, or not. Sometimes it isn’t and this must be explained to the individual or the organisation.
“Ninety-nine percent of all failures come from people who have a habit of making excuses.”
-George W Carver-
One of my mentors once explained to me, ‘you cannot change someone’s mind. All you can do is provide additional information that might lead them to a different conclusion.’
In subsequent years I have added my own expansions to the end of this suggesting that the way we deliver the information will significantly affect the likelihood of it being received well or not. But at the end of the day, the buck lies with the individual.
Someone who has adopted a blame mindset is virtually impossible to help. Anything that goes well is attributed to them and their selfless and well-led efforts. Anything that goes poorly, was due to others, the environment, or changes in circumstance.
Sadly, these people find themselves subtly ostracised as people try and distance themselves from their draining and negative energy. We can understand why.
When it becomes evident that a person has adopted this mindset, I too am left with choices. I can accept this person’s money and attempt to guide them to a different conclusion (sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t). Or, I can call it at the moment of identification. I can say something similar to “has it ever occurred to you that in all of your stories, you are the only single point of consistency throughout each of them?”
When you ask a question like this people will do one of two things. They will either attack, or they will consider the information. Those that attack are rarely good candidates for coaching. Those that consider have hope yet.
Let me make this explicitly clear:
“At some point the blame game stops and the accountability start.”
Within this discussion there is an important distinction to make between ‘excuses’ and ‘context’.
Excuses are utilised as a means of redirecting blame to another source.
Context is geared towards capturing ‘the truth’ and explaining some of the considerations that led to someone decision.
The key point being, one is geared towards blaming someone/something else, the other is leveraged towards explaining how we arrived at making our own decision (but we still made the decision).
Be careful who you spend your time with. It is a decision in your investment of time. If you hang around people who shirk blame and adopt a victim mentality, it wont be long until you begin adopting the same behaviours and thoughts. It is a choice at the beginning of the path, choose wisely.
I make no apologies about filtering who I do and do not let into my professional and personal spheres.
If someone does not have the moral character to consider the validity of making improved choices, on the foundation of lessons learn from previous ones – Then we are at a vales cross roads. One which will send us on different paths.
If we genuinely want to empower people, then we need to make them feel like they have choices and their choices matter. We need to make them feel like the world in its entirety is not just happening to them. We need to illustrate how powerful they are (and can be). We need to show them how much they have learned through their previous experiences (despite being arduous, unfair, and challenging). Only then, do we see people truly level up and move forward in the world, protected by a sheet of armour forged in accountability and lessons learned.
To do the opposite is to send them down a path of learned helplessness with a trajectory and outcome that is not too difficult to predict.
Be honest with yourself and others. Wear your failures and lessons learned as a badge of pride. Let it strengthen your reputation and character.
If this article has been of interest to you please consider stopping by our Company blog.
David Neal from The Eighth Mile Consulting has made the Power List of the Top 200 Biggest Voices in Leadership 2022.
“We stepped into the new decade over rocky terrain, uncertain about what the future had in store. But the human tendency of deriving wisdom through experience and passing it on has programmed us to be instinctively prepared in the face of adversity. And that is precisely the mission of the leadersHum community of experts and thought leaders.
The ranking this year has changed in its evaluation, it’s more global, it’s more digital and it’s the impact leaders are having with social channels and followership. As part of this mission, we celebrate the distinguished leaders whose contributions to leadership coaching and strategy have made it what it is today. We welcome the leaders inducted into the leadersHum Power List of the Top 200 Biggest Voices in Leadership to watch for in 2022.
Join us in this journey to inspire leaders everywhere and redefine the world of work, brought to you by leadersHum from peopleHum.”
We talk to David Neal about the nuances of good leadership. David Neal has a decade of experience in the Australian Army, with most of his experience in leadership roles. He is currently a Director at Eighth Mile Consulting.
1:39 – from enemies to best mates.
6:12 – there is nothing noble about being harmless.
7:06 – avoiding or engaging with conflict.
7:27 – what makes a leader?
8:50 – good leadership looks different in different contexts.
11:40 – the leadership style in the military.
12:59 – how values and beliefs impact team performance.
15:12 – navigating the conflicts that arise from having a diverse team.
15:35 – definition of leadership.
16:30 – diversity is contextual. What are you trying to achieve?
18:43 – are you trying to be right or correct?
20:36 – leaders represent people authentically in forums where they cannot represent themselves.
22:18 – trying to be right disengages people around you.
23:41 – it’s better to lose the battle and keep the relationship, especially with your kids.
25:07 – extreme ownership and admitting mistakes.
27:28 – where the name Eighth Mile Consulting came from.
29:18 – owning our mistakes turns our weakness into a strength.
31:39 – owning your faults increases your credibility and your ability to influence.
32:55 – steelman and strawman debating tactics.
36:01 – influence starts by listening, not speaking.
38:14 – it takes discipline to shut up and listen.
41:55 – I don’t have time to listen.
44:02 – why boundaries give more freedom.
52:14 – boundaries with children.
54:46 – just do what makes you happy is terrible advice.
56:46 – the standard you walk past is the standard you accept.
58:18 – sometimes leaders only have bad options to choose from.
1:00:14 – leadership is not about you.
1:02:44 – a leader’s reputation is their influence.
1:06:1 – making an unpopular decision that you believe will be best for the long term.
1:10:49 – reputation is based on your character but not fully in your own control.
1:12:57 – how to become more self-aware as leaders.
1:15:30 – everyone is a leader.
1:16:11 – how to create a safe space for people to speak up.
1:18:55 – empathy saved the world.
1:24:7 – our ego can be our greatest enemy.
1:26:12 – connect with David Neal.”
You can find more detailed show notes with links to references at: https://candourpodcast.com/david-neal/
“Being the leader…..and the new guy in an established team is a tough gig. David shares what he got wrong and what went well on Episode 57 of the #podcast.
I only got through half of the questions, so we will need to catch up for round 2. One of my favourites.
Podcast Link – https://lnkd.in/gs3ysgc6
The Eighth Mile Consulting have opened their doors to their new office.
The launch of their new office in Caloundra CBD offers a unique set of capabilities that will enhance the way they educate and support others. The office was founded on a concept of traditional values and a respect for historical lessons learned. The result, timeless…
I have always had a healthy admiration for comedians.
For me they have always been the bearer of uncomfortable truths and the representors of the silent majority (or silent masses). Whether it is Ricky Gervais shamelessly applying public head shots to actor elites on the Golden Globes, or The Monty Python crew explaining ‘what have the romans ever done for us?’ I have always been intrigued as to their role in society and teams.
When I was a new Lieutenant, I had a soldier in my platoon who we will call ‘Steve’. He was an older soldier and an experienced troublemaker. He had a natural charismatic aura and had come from a tough background. Other soldiers gravitated to his energy. Arguably his most redeeming feature was his ‘rat cunning’ and his ability to read the room, and the people within it.
We used to make a distinction between ‘three types’ of soldier:
The ‘Barracks Soldier.’ Very rarely in trouble with the law, thus rarely requiring disciplining or corrective actions. A professional in the barracks in the environment. Often highly educated and industrious with a good response to order and convention. Generally very career focused particularly with regards to promotions and courses.
The ‘Field Soldiers.’ Often in trouble in the barracks environment (legal, relationships, investments, career, etc), but a natural fighter in the field environment. They often had very little career ambition but just loved the thrill of being at the pointy end of their profession. They often made up for their barracks transgressions by demonstrating their skill on the battlefield.
The ‘Unicorn’. The soldier that was excellent in and out of the field.
Steve was a field soldier of the highest order. The soldiers respected and looked up to him, so much so that he socially asserted himself as their representative. A tricky position to hold in an organisation which is intensely hierarchical, and order driven.
The mechanism by which he achieved this effect: Comedy.
He had an innate ability to crack a joke and break the ice. But not just any meaningless and useless joke. No, it was far more surgical than that. His jokes were of the right balance to be able to call out the elephant in the room. The one no-one else wanted to, or could, address.
As a leader it was incredibly valuable.
1. The fact that the important message was delivered as a joke meant it was done with good intent (we will talk about offence being taken, not given later).
2. The frequency of his jokes meant that no-one was safe, and everyone could expect to be ridiculed, even himself (by himself) at some point, thus removing the officialities associated with the hierarchy.
3. The content of his jokes was always etched in some level of subjective truth. He was most often reporting the obvious or blinding inconsistencies in our messaging or logic, the ones that everyone was thinking, but no-one was speaking about. This allowed us to answer these concerns publicly and address the concerns of the masses without the need for complaints.
One time however, during a period of weakness I lashed out at Steve who was cracking jokes at a time when I was severely sleep deprived and carrying a burden of responsibility which I didn’t feel comfortable explaining to my men at the time. The result of this lapse in judgement was a temporary break in rapport with Steve, who abruptly retreated into his metaphorical shell.
For a period, I was blind to the needs and feelings of my men. The section commanders did a good job in allaying their concerns and ideas, but even they were separated to some extent due to their hierarchical positions.
We had lost our court jester…
Steve was wise enough to know it too (otherwise he wouldn’t have been a very good reader of rooms). Slowly but surely, he regained his confidence and began demonstrating the much-needed behaviours which would characterise our Platoon team dynamic.
Over time as his confidence grew, he became a reliable source of information about what was happening to the other teams within our organisation. The other team jesters would speak to each other and ground truth information we could not, or would not, receive via other means.
The term ‘Jester’ is drawn from Anglo-Norman (Old French) Gestour or Jestour, meaning storyteller or Minstrel. Older terms for the same role included Fol, Disour, Buffoon, and Bourder.
The role provided an important function and has been present the world over for ages past.
In Ancient Rome, Balatrones were professional performers for the rich. Often covering political topics, relevant at the time. This was particularly true during periods of carnival.
“The Court Jester had the right to say the most outrageous things to the king. Everything was permitted during carnival, even the songs that the Roman Legionnaires would sing, calling Julies Caesar ‘Queen’, alluding, in a very transparent way, to his real, or presumed, homosexual escapades.’
The Aztecs and Chinese employed cultural equivalents to the jester, to the same effect.
In France in 1340, when the French fleet was destroyed at the battle of Sluvs by the English, Phillip VI’s jester told him the English sailors ‘don’t even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French.’ In doing so, he was the first to break the bad news to the King, when no-one else would dare (Beatrice, O, 2001)
In Poland, a politically focussed jester by the name of Stanczyk would later become a historical symbol for the Polish people (Pelc, J, 1989).
In an example which pushes the boundaries, a Jester by the name of Ferrial (AKA Triboulet) went too far by insulting the Queen. The King responded decisively, sentencing him to death. Due to Ferrial’s long service with the King, he was provided with the opportunity to choose his mechanism of death. His response “Good sire, by Saint Goody Two Shoes and Saint Fatty, patrons of insanity, I ask to die from old age.” So brazen was his response, the King reconsidered his order, and banished him instead (Historia, 2008).
“Satire must accompany any free society. It is an absolute necessity. Even in the most repressive medieval kingdoms they understood the need for the Court Jester, the one soul allowed to tell the truth through laughter.”
– Joe Randozzo –
Shakespeare identified the important need for jesters. He often used them as a means of incentivising attendance at his plays of different classes within society. The jester was used a mechanism of commonality and a means of building rapport within the audience, regardless of their status.
In the ‘Twelfth Night’, Feste the jester is described as “wise enough to play the fool” such was the high regard for which the position was held.
In ‘King Lear,’ the Jester is used as a means of communicating the perceptions of the masses, adopting a consultative or advisory role for the Monarch.
In essence, the Jester is, and has always been, the last line of defence in the battle for common sense. They have forever been the pressure tester of ideas, and the illuminator of idiocy. They are the identifier of hypocrisies and inconsistencies. They are the social pattern finders, with the courage to communicate their observations. They are by their very nature incredibly intelligent and observant.
But what has caught my eye in recent years is a concerning shift in language and expectations. There has been an ever-increasing tendency to compel speech and censor language to escape awkwardness and avoid offence. It seems to have accompanied a social redirection to ever improve our collective safety, without concerning ourselves for the accompanying responsibility to increase one’s own strength.
In a recent example, SOAS University in London attempted to pre-censor Konstantin Kisin (comedian) as a prerequisite to his comedic performance. The list of banned topics included: “racism, sexism, classism, ageism, ableism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, anti-religion or anti-atheism.” A tough gig for any comic. Needless to say, Konstantin didn’t take the job.
During my time in the Infantry, it was the class clowns that really bonded the teams. Their jokes new few limits, and no-one was exempt. An Officer that could demonstrate they could take a joke on the chin and walk it off, demonstrated a strength of character which would be highly valuable in other more challenging environments. If they couldn’t take a joke, how would they respond with the pressures associated with a real enemy who seeks to kill them? It might seem a bridge too far to connect taking a joke and being shot at, but they are more similar than they are different.
The teams with the most developed sense of humour were the ones that survived the greatest hardships, plain and simple. The leaders who ignored the value of humour within their teams, or were too uptight to take a joke, were the ones that experienced fractured teams with poor morale.
In the movie Deadpool, Wade Winston finds strength through his torture by relentlessly cracking jokes to assert his only freedom on his captors. Later in the movie his comedic rants only escalate further, demonstrating a powerful strength of character. It is as if his ability to crack jokes is his strongest superpower of all as it links with his resilience. Across the two films Deadpool makes endless jokes about his emerging team members, and they return the favour. The exchanges are shrugged off by each participant as they pressure test each other relentlessly. Slowly but surely their teams grows cohesively, glued together through comedy and the observational humour of their central jester.
When I transitioned out of the Military there was an adjustment period. The most significant adjustment I experienced was the censoring of speech. I had never experienced censorship of this level and I had worked in Top Secret environments for many years! It was as if there was an unspoken rule, governed by an unseen presence, dictating that one could not (or should not) say anything that could remotely offend someone else. This for me seemed like madness at first. I attempted to rationalise the problem in the first instance, ‘offence is subjective, how could someone possibly govern that?’ Or ‘don’t they realise that a team that cannot joke about itself will never get through tough times?’
Gabrielle Union’s quote echoed in my mind at the time, “drama can feel like therapy whereas comedy feels like there’s been a pressure and a weight lifted off of you.”
Nonetheless the censorship was there, and it was real. I trod on some toes initially, I was then ‘corrected,’ until I too started to adjust my speech. In most cases I didn’t even know I was doing it. To some extent, I drank the Kool Aid. With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that I was avoiding problems by not addressing them. My avoidance was prompting regret due to my lack of personal courage and convictions. After some time, the regret morphed into resentment towards individuals themselves, and also towards myself. This continued until one day I was answering someone’s question about Leadership as part of a workshop.
Their question: ‘What do you think is the most important function of a leader?”
My answer: ‘Good leaders are those that can articulate and contextualise the truth’.
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew then and there that I had let myself down. I had shied away from having courageous conversations and I was resenting people unnecessarily because of it…
“Those who make conversations impossible, make escalation inevitable.”
I hope that most people would agree that comedy is important. The distinction lies in what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable, and the challenge emerges when we acknowledge the nature of subjectivity; what someone finds offensive will be perfectly acceptable to another. The complexity that exacerbates this further, is that we are seemingly creating a culture that avoids conflict at all expense, even if it is healthy and delivered with pure intent.
In expanding this topic I think there are some important distinctions that need to be made:
Bullying vs Banter. Banter is not Bullying. Banter is ‘the exchange of remarks in a good-humoured teasing way.’ Bullying is ‘seeking to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable.)’ The difference lies in people’s intent. Most would remember the early days of romantic dating when banter really meant flirting…
Problem vs Person. A good jester can delineate between the problem and the person (the individual). They are often different things. Subtle changes in language can change the trajectory of a joke into an attack. Another expansion might include the distinction between a ‘joke’ and a ‘jab.’ Experienced comics traverse this razors edge with expert skill. The most proficient jester is one that can talk about the elephant in the room without leading the conversation to the conclusion that it was someone’s fault for letting it in.
‘Time and Place’ vs ‘In Your Face.’ There is a time for jokes and banter and there is a time for seriousness and decorum. Get the balance wrong and a jester can find themselves in hot lava. Some people are terrible readers of the room and extend way too far.
But what of offence? Are we so fragile that differing opinions can damage us? I would hope not. I would like to think that people have become stronger over time, enlightened with more information and the lessons from our forbearers. But alas, I do not think this is true.
I think over time we have become increasingly secular and tribal, forever terrified about what people might think of us. Our fear has now turned towards those ‘jesters’ that are brave enough to communicate what they see. To explain their truth whilst revelling in the awkwardness of it all.
“He who takes offense when no offense is intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense is intended is a greater fool.”
In true Jester fashion Ricky Gervais was coined saying “Just because you’re offended doesn’t mean you’re right.” He was of course indirectly speaking about the truth, and the role the jester plays in communicating it.
In full transparency my personal concern is towards the censorship of speech. I would hate to think that language itself was censored or as a minimum distorted under a guise of ‘protection’ and ‘tolerance.’ The idea terrifies me and George Orwell’s 1984 springs to mind, “In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.”
So moving forward be very mindful about attacking and silencing the jester, particularly if they might be telling us something we need to hear.
If you have a jester in your team or organisation, be glad. Because whilst they are talking, you might be kept aware enough to not drink your own Kool Aid. Who knows you might learn something and become stronger for it.
If you see the jester being targeted and removed, start asking yourself who will provide the ‘common sense’ perspective?
If you look around and see no jester, be worried. They have either left and moved to greener pastures, or their satirical spirit has been crushed. Neither are good options for the longevity of healthy, resilient and capable teams. A workplace without humour is a sad and unsustainable place.
These are my thoughts, what are yours?
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Many of the people that have arrived at this article have already entered this environment postured for war. Please lower your shields and spears, I come in peace.
I recently ran a poll where I braved the question: “Has political correctness gone too far?”
Honestly, I knew I was opening a can of worms, but at the same time I have grown weary of tip toeing around issues. As I grow older and better define who I am, I also grow in resilience and thick skin.
What is it about this topic that polarises people so greatly? I have invested some significant thought into the topic and I feel I might have stumbled upon some insights.
Both parties are mostly saying the same thing, but in a different way. The reason for the confusion stems from the definitions we subscribe to and the frame of reference we use to contextualise the topic. Moreover, going through the extensive comments a number of patterns have emerged.
For the purposes of this article let’s break the poll into the two groups. The YES and NO groups.
YES group (those who believe that political correctness has gone too far). The emergent themes in the comments were:
NO group (those who believe that political correctness has not gone too far). The emergent themes in the comments were:
What was immediately obvious were the consistencies in language associated with respect, communication, labels, and oppression.
Both sides assumed ill intent.
Generally speaking, the YES category made the assessment that the other parties were deliberately trying to silence and suppress the objective truth, often because it was felt they couldn’t handle it. The NO category assumed that the yes voters were deliberately trying to change the system in an attempt to get away with doing the wrong things. This was not an isolated observation either. There were hundreds of comments across the breadth of conversations attributed to shares from the original post. In essence, both parties assumed the worst of each other.
The assertions they made about each other force fed the narrative of evilness and divisiveness which helped to alienate the other group. It also allowed people to stay comfortable exactly where they were, self-assured in the realisation that they were right, and the others were wrong.
I think if everyone is truly honest with themselves, they will realise that most people’s intent is pure. Most people I know are trying to make the best of their situations with the knowledge and resources they have available. This is not to say that there are not evil people out there, there most definitely are. But I would suggest they are not as prevalent as we would like to convince ourselves of, particularly when we are trying to make generalised assertions about political sidings and viewpoints.
Acknowledgement of this is a great start because it allows us to focus on the problem, not the person.
“Assume the worst about people and you get the worst”
After looking at the results I think bias is one of the central issues. Not only about the topic of political correctness, but about most divisive topics in society today.
There is a term called ‘confirmation bias’ which explains the “tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.” This is not a small issue. In fact, it is an incredibly dangerous and divisive issue in society today. Quite simply, what you are looking for you will find. The cumulative effects of this bias leads people to polarise. It acts in a manner that is similar in its characteristics to feedback in a microphone and speaker arrangement when the sound transmitted from a speaker is picked up by the microphone which sends a message back to the speaker to increase the volume, with the cycle ever-repeating. It is a viscous and escalating cycle that if left unchecked results in damage to the system.
Similarly, confirmation bias prompts someone to look for information that proves their existing narrative, then guides them towards finding information that proves it, then repeats the process. The repetition pulls the person further along the spectrum each time.
In this sense, we must always ask ourselves whether we would rather be right, or correct. They are fundamentally different things.
“I think it’s outrageous if a historian has a ‘leading thought’ because it means they will select their material according to their thesis.”
A commonly overlooked issue with people is our tendency to filter out information. Not just a little bit of information, but nearly all of it! Our brains are geared in such a way that they are trying to make sense of the world around us and navigate the incredible complexities it provides. The result of which is our inability to measure the world objectively and accurately.
No better example of this exists than in the unreliability of ‘eye-witness testimonies’ in court cases. “Although witnesses can often be very confident that their memory is accurate when identifying a suspect, the malleable nature of human memory and visual perception makes eyewitness testimony one of the most unreliable forms of evidence.” Greg Hurley, National Center for State Courts.
Our brains have managed complexity by attempting to reduce the scope of our focus. Our senses spend most of the time trying to remove the white noise and focus on the things that are deemed more important. This is a great function when used correctly, but without constant and careful attentiveness it can rapidly spiral into a stasis of bigotry, ignorance, and misinformation.
At the grass roots level, it results in ever extending separation of groups who in reality have many similarities or consistencies. What is scary is that the basis of our information, claims and opinions are most likely grounded in minimal truth, or as a minimum an absence of context.
When we delve ever deeper into the specific details of issues, we learn the utility and applicability of context. What might be true in one scenario is categorically wrong in another. To make matters even more complex is when we consider that someone might be right and wrong at the exact same time, depending on the frame of reference and context of the scenario. What is more challenging is when we consider that neither party might be right at all, and we may not have even stumbled across the correct answer yet as a collective.
If we fail to get into the detail and rely solely on the information provided by our senses, subjective experience and filters we are doomed to miss opportunities afforded in understanding context and truth.
Do not be so sure that what you have experienced is the truth.
“What you see is filtered through your beliefs. You rarely see “reality.” You see your version of it.”
So where do we go from here? How can we start finding common language and understanding in order to have an amicable meeting of minds?
I think the path forward lies in our understanding and distinction of values and beliefs.
Values are guiding principles that overshadow our understanding of the world. They largely remain extant throughout our lives. They assist us in prioritising our efforts, altering our behaviours, and defining our identities.
Beliefs are different. They are an acceptance of something being true, often without proof. Beliefs can and do change throughout the course of our lives as our understanding of the world becomes more refined and higher resolution. Beliefs are also often used to help navigate specific situations, scenarios, or schemas.
This distinction is highly relevant. We often place too much weight on beliefs as opposed to values. We form allegiances with those people who hold the same belief system as opposed to those with the same values, and this works up until the point where our belief system is disproven or is made irrelevant due to context or additional information. Then the person is hit with an existential crisis that directly challenges their ego and core identity. People will then do one of two things:
The former option is the most often to occur, resulting in further separation from the truth and a regression from personal growth.
The highest performing individuals and teams make a deliberate attempt to surround themselves with people who have like-values but different beliefs. The diversity is what fuels innovation and creativity, but it comes at a cost – awareness and accuracy.
The chaos and uncertainty that is inevitably created as a result of breaking down and rebuilding people’s belief systems is subsequently glued back together with the power of the values they all subscribe to. In the first instance, it is terrifying to be proven wrong, but knowing it came from an angle of love and was triggered by the pursuit of truth is what ultimately confirms its importance and relevance.
When implemented correctly the relationship survives and thrives, and a new cycle of growth is formed. A belief system is challenged, the relationship is re-glued by values, everyone grows, then the process is repeated.
I would like to take the opportunity to share some advice (for what it’s worth) from my experience as a leader, learnt mostly from my mistakes.
If you are a leader you should not choose to be offended. The moment you become offended the dialogue stops. The moment the dialogue stops you lose your influence. The moment you lose your influence the person drifts in the other direction.
It takes significant courage, fortitude, and discipline to listen to people intently, absorbing their entire message. All this, whilst trying to find the context for why/how they arrived at that conclusion. It is a well recorded communication skill to be able to accurately and honestly depict another person’s opinion (in all its detail) without manipulating it into a narrative that suits our own purposes. This is an incredibly powerful skill to foster and maintain enduring relationships.
Our egos are ultimately the trap. They encourage us to cut others off and impart our opinion over theirs. The moment we choose to become offended we have decided to focus on the person, not the problem, and this does not work.
The other thing to consider is that the loudest people in the room very rarely hold the greatest influence. Be careful when the ‘squeaky wheel’ individual claims to represent the interests of an entire group, rarely is this the case (in my experience). It is quite often to find a silent majority who hold relatively consistent opinions. This group are sometimes reticent to communicate because it is perceived to be too hard to deal with the louder more dominating individuals, and is therefore fraught with avoidable dangers.
This is a shame because it speaks to the fundamentals around communication, openness, and honesty which professedly scaffold our communities and cultures. Maybe more important to recognise is the lack of dialogue and communication leads to regret, which subsequently morphs into resentment. I see this happening with the two groups in the political correctness debate, as people routinely mention their inability to speak out without being attacked.
If you think the damages associated with offending people are bad, wait until you see the results of drawn out resentment. They are quite literally the worst.
So, has political correctness gone too far? The answer is yes, no and it depends (very politically correct I know, but it is true).
The answer is case specific to individual societies and cultures. It is in varying levels in different places throughout the world, all of which hold different political structures and systems. A generalised answer about the topic or the people that voted is arguably unhelpful and only serves to fuel bias.
One could reasonably say that 84% of people saying something has gone too far is an objective indicator to consider that there is likely something amiss. But if it is to be fixed it requires further analysis and contextualisation to find those root causes that are triggering this answer. It also needs people to leave their egos at the door. It is important to note that had I asked the question in a different way, it is likely I would have received an entirely different result. The frame of reference is important and cannot be overlooked for the sake of convenience.
All this considered, the incredible sway in one direction (based on the way I asked the question) might trigger some people to reassess the way they communicate with others. It might challenge preconceptions that individuals previously had on the topic. It might pressure test some people’s beliefs – and that is good thing. Hopefully, it might have shocked some people to delve further into the topic in a manner that might challenge their own belief systems, or the way they interact with others.
If it has achieved this, then we have collectively taken one small step in the right direction and that is a better place than we were previously. Sometimes that is all we can hope for.
Safe travels, and best wishes.
I hope you have enjoyed this article
When I was a young boy I made a monumental mistake.
My equally rebellious friends and I had managed to source a big box of matches. We thought it would be a great idea to go down to the makeshift BMX ramps which were located in the nearby pine forest that surrounded our suburb. One thing led to the next and before we knew it we had figured out that if you hold the match in a specific way and flick it with your other finger then you can shoot them at each other. So that is exactly what we did. We spent nearly an hour burning each other by shooting flaming matches at each other. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do at the time, but in the back of my mind I knew that if I got caught my Dad would kill me!
The very same man that achieved so much for so long by focusing intense energy on areas of his life that were deemed high priorities. This included his family, his work, his sport and community groups.
So, with this as knowledge I continued to burn my friends, as they burnt me – laughing and carrying on the entire time. Until something went wrong…
Who would have thought that hundreds of flaming matches in combination with a dry and arid Australian bushland would be a combination for a disaster? It didn’t take long before we realised we had started a small bush fire off to our flanks. We all snapped into gear taking off our shirts and trying to put out the small fire which by this time was beginning to spread. Then I thought to myself if Mum knew what I was doing with my T-Shirt right now, worse than killing me, she’d be disappointed!
The same woman that had selflessly focused on our family, providing us with good hearty values and morals. She had admirably progressed herself with poise, tact and dignity as she moved up the Corporate ladder into increasingly respected positions of leadership.
As it turned out, with a little bit of luck from some lateral wind we won the battle. Laying there panting, covered in unnecessary match burns a tall dark looming figure appeared over our heads. It was a man that lived on the borders of the forest we were playing in. He had heard the commotion and realised what was happening. We scattered to the four winds in a desperate attempt to escape. I got away and ran home.
Hours passed. Then a knock at the door…
There was my slightly chubby friend standing next to his Dad. There I was on the inside of the door standing next to my Dad. My heart practically stopped. It was now time to pay the piper. The Dad’s talked to each other. I could feel the rage in my father growing.
What eventuated was something unexpected.
When everyone had left and it was just us in the room, he turned to me and said one thing.
“You know better, where was your self-discipline?”
By no means was this the end of the ‘discussion’ or the ‘disciplinary process’ but it was the one thing I would remember vividly in my bones forever as it had come from one of the most disciplined men I know.
Today’s society has evolved so rapidly influencing technology, populations, expansion, globalisation and leadership changes.
But in other ways society has regressed and it has been more subtle and insidious. In many areas within society we have seen a progressive shift away from our personal values as our compass, and personal discipline as our mechanism of delivery.
Slowly but surely, we made it more and more acceptable to withdraw from accountability. The truth has slowly been replaced with whatever language or actions make us more comfortable, instead of those that might keep us honest and accountable. This has been further exacerbated by a narrative that encourages people to be victims. We stopped telling people what they needed to hear, and instead reverted to telling them what they wanted to hear. We started making excuses for people in order to avoid having difficult conversations. All this has resulted in a significant paradigm shift that has left many people disenfranchised, disconnected and irrelevant to those around them.
It was Mahatma Gandhi. That said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Most people reading this would agree on one thing. Our minds are often geared to resist change (often due to a lack of incentives, fear of uncertainty or a perceived risk of losing what they already own). So, what is it that can help someone get out of their own way? What can we generally identify as the precursors which will prevent someone from taking positive action in their life? Here are some:
But these are all just feel good words and phrases unless they are overshadowed by a culture of discipline and action. Without discipline to act on these values and ideals people remain in a state of limbo, always talking a big game but never get anything done. These are the same people that have ‘opinions’ about most things, but rarely have the calloused knuckles of a person who actually works to achieve the goals and commit to the delivery.
My time in the military showed me some of the most disciplined people in the world. They would stop at nothing to achieve the goals required for their individual and team success. They understood the interrelationship between self and team success, identifying that in most cases they were one in the same.
William Feather once stated, “if we do not discipline ourselves, the world will do it for us.”
Looking back now, boy was he right!?
Ask yourself the following questions honestly:
If the answer is unfavorable, then you have some serious life changing choices to make.
It is not someone else’s responsibility to keep you accountable. That responsibility lies solely and squarely on your shoulders.
Moreover, being disciplined does not mean being a jerk or being mean. It has absolutely no connection with being jaded, obtuse, offensive, rude or antisocial – quite the opposite actually. A disciplined person is in control of their behaviour, communication, and deliveries. They accept accountability when they get these things wrong and then subsequently improve without making excuses or demonising the other party.
As we approach the end of the year many of us will start posturing to make our New Year’s Resolutions. Two types of people will emerge from the pack. Those that follow through and commit to long-term behavioural changes, ultimately improving their lives and others. There will be another group of people that will talk a big game, dabble in temporary difficult work and then subsequently quit. The determiner for each of these types will be discipline. Better yet there will be a third group that see no need in waiting for New Years in order to start moving and fixing things, they will start immediately.
Life is not meant to be easy despite our best wishes. Life is experienced in an environment characterised by chaos, uncertainty and friction. The more we choose to place our fates in the environments that surround us the more we lose control of our own futures.
For many, it is time to start being uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable! So uncomfortable that it normalises and you finally realise that you are well positioned to make choices that can significantly improve your life and circumstances, or alternatively float along in a cloud of malaise.
Commit to something small and get it done. Find something slightly more difficult and get it done. Find something even more difficult and get it done…Rinse and repeat until you realise how much control over yourself and your future you really have! Have the discipline to finish something, and then everything.
If you want to truly step your life up to the next level then start accepting accountability for your actions. If you know there are behaviours that are unresourceful and are resulting in negative outcomes – Stop them! Surround yourself with people that are also on a journey of betterment. Hold them to account if they are to remain in your circle of influence. They should do the same for you. But, don’t rely on them to get your responsibilities fulfilled.
I trust this message will get to the one person that needs to hear it. It might be the very message which will lead you to a better outcome. It is written from an angle of love and respect.
For those committing to longer term success and are willing to be more disciplined this time around I say ‘Ad Meliora’ – ‘Onwards to better things.’
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So today I woke up angry, frustrated and pissed off. Sue me, I’m human.
The trigger was due to the accumulative effects of numerous issues which arose the day before. It was just one of those days that progressively got worse and worse until the point where it was nearly laughable.
The day involved everything from technology blow ups, being let down unexpectedly by others, losing important leads, communication blunders, losing the rugby, to not sleeping through the night. It was one thing after the next. No sooner had I put down the phone did it call with another problem. We have all been there. Just one of those days…
So, I woke up this morning with a unique idea. I would walk people through the way I was going to re-frame and get back on the horse. This would document how I forcibly slap myself off of the victim bandwagon and get on with life. This is as transparent and honest as I can be about something that is happening real-time.
Whenever someone gets ‘spooled up’ like I did the day prior, it is usually following a number of assumptions or assertions that have been placed into the narrative.
1. In my instance it is very easy to assume that the ‘attack’ on me from multiple fronts is due to a higher and more insidious attempt to break me.
2. That the people who let me down did so in order to deliberately annoy and frustrate me.
3. That the leads we lost were a complete and utter waste of time.
4. That the technology mishaps were entirely preventable
5. That the rugby game we lost was the universe’s way of putting the ‘cherry on the cake.’
When you say it out loud one immediately starts to realise that it is a massive list of thoughts generated by self-rationalisation.
A narrative that directly places me in the cross hairs of a victim mindset.
Instead let’s look now at what I know to be true:
1. I had a crappy day with a whole bunch of unrelated but equally frustrating events.
2. The day prior was quite good and if I choose I could average it out and come out on top. Or better yet I could reinforce the fact that what happened one day is very unlikely to have full effect on the next.
3. It is very unlikely that the interpersonal disappointments were malicious in any way. More likely it was how I chose to interpret them.
With that detailed, let’s move onto the next step…
If you are interested in learning more about the distinction between facts and assumptions, read this article I wrote previously.
My personal values are below. Let’s see how I can use my values in order to make better choices. In doing so I need to be 100% honest with myself and leave my ego and pride at the door. I need to ask myself some challenging questions.
1. Whilst I am wallowing in self-pity and anger, am I providing service to others? No
2. Would the mindset I am currently demonstrating align with my reputation of service to others? No
3. Are there better ways I can demonstrate service to others? Yes
4. Will what I experienced recently redirect who I provide service to in the future? Partly Yes
1. Is there a more productive way of using my time in order to provide service to others? Yes
2. Am I currently being forward leaning or reactive? Reactive
3. Can I make a deliberate choice right now in order to demonstrate initiative of thought and activity? Yes
1. Did I have a part to play in the proceedings that happened the day prior? Yes
2. Could I have responded in different ways that would be more resourceful? Yes
3. Is this an opportunity for self-learning? Yes
4. Are we now more informed about the realities with the people, technology and markets? Yes
5. Will this allow me to adjust my style and approach in the future? Yes
1. Did you demonstrate integrity in the way you responded to stimuli? Yes, but I could have done better.
2. Do you have a choice to demonstrate integrity moving forward? Yes
3. Did we learn about other people’s integrity throughout the process? Yes
4. Will this help in allowing me to better allocate our time to people with like-minded values? Yes
These questions, and others like them are the result of personal discipline to stop oneself getting worked up. It has taken me many years to realise my limits and personality flaws to the point where I can ask myself questions like this in order to snap myself back into the person I would like to be remembered as. In this way our values can become powerful circuit breakers.
Moving forward I have to make some choices. The first is a choice as to whether I will whine like a little child and play the victim, or whether I choose to act like a mature adult that accepts their part to play in the events, learns from it and makes better choices in the future.
The second is whether I contextualise what I am experiencing with the real world.
1. Is anyone dead or dying? No.
2. In ten years time will I remember or care about the shit day? No.
3. Have I personally dealt with worse? Hell yes!
Then get off your high horse and get back down to reality where you belong….
My decisions and choices moving forward:
1. Today I will act in a way that acquits my values positively
2. I will make more informed choices about the people I invest time in, the technologies we use, and the markets we service.
3. Today I’ll re-frame with a chosen phrase of ‘shit happens’. Sometimes you have crappy days. Get over it.
4. I’m going to start looking for opportunities and gaps and regain my hunt for ‘good people.’
It is time to execute on the promises, and implement the lessons learnt.
No excuses. Get it done!
Getting these things done is what we will define as success and winning.
I hope by walking people through this internal discussion and dialogue they can see some opportunities for their own personal growth. Either that or you now think I am a loony madman.
I trust that the importance of personal choice and accountability rings through and this resonates with the people who are currently ‘spooling up’.
I am confident that there is at least one person out there who might gain value from this article.
In closing I would like to quote Viktor Frankl:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
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Author: David Neal – Director – The Eighth Mile Consulting