Nothing personal

Avantika Sinha
Sep 04, 2012

What happens when you turn a key in a car door is very different from what happens when you turn the same key in the ignition. The external stimulus is the same in both cases but differences in internal structure of the two objects determine whether the door swings open or the engine roars to life.

We normally assume external events create pressure but since people respond differently to similar events we can conclude that differences in the way we are internally wired, in particular, in the way we habitually interpret situations, determines our experience of them.

The three typical reactive assessments that create pressure are:

1. This is my fault. I’m going to be blamed for this

2. This is going to impact everything in my life

3. The effects of this are going to last forever

Part of the antidote to PAP (Personal, All pervasive, Permanent) thinking as it’s known is clearly to get some perspective on the situation but although most people, after taking a deep breath, can talk themselves out of the all pervasive, permanent elements of their catastrophizing it is often much harder for high performing managers to stop taking things so personally. They believe that if they’re not tough on themselves their standards will drop.

However, Tim Galwey, a famous tennis coach and one of the founding fathers of the executive coaching profession, discovered that his coachees played a far higher quality of game when they simply played shots without judging them, compared to when they berated themselves after playing poor shots. Even more surprisingly he found that when the coachees consciously played ‘non-judgementally’ they played better than when they praised themselves after every good shot – presumably because the very act of labeling a shot ‘good’ subconsciously set a standard that consigned by comparison, other shots to the ‘bad’ shot trash pile.

In the corporate world, rather than the judgement heavy interpretation ‘this is my fault’ or even ‘he’s to blame’ a more forward moving response may be to simply to ask yourself the judgement neutral questions – ‘What is the situation in front of me? What do I want to achieve? Therefore… what do I need to do?’

The best managers don’t waste time assigning blame to themselves or others. They understand what the mystical Sufi poet Rumi meant when he observed ‘Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing is a field. I’ll meet you there’