Monthly Archives: July 2015

Success at Last: Stepping out of the Box

We have been talking about what it means to be in a box of negative perceptions in your Out-of-the-Boxorganization. In this post we are going to walk through steps you can take to get out of that box.

In a quick review of previous posts you have become familiar with a few of psychological truths that you must grasp if you hope to find your way out of the box.

The first of these four truths is:

“If you are in a box, you don’t get out until they let you out.”

Meaning, regardless of how you got there, or whether it is fair, you often find yourself in a box that only they can let you out of.

The second truth:

“People buy with their emotions and justify with facts.”

Meaning that it is either human nature or human laziness that lead us to look for facts or behaviors that confirm what we already hold to be true or to which we are emotionally attached. It seems to be easier for us to keep people in their box than it is for us to reconsider our assessments of them.

The third psychological truth:

“The receiver of novel information has no paradigmatic hooks to make sense of the new information (or behavior) they have just heard (or seen).”

Meaning that people are not accustomed to incorporating new ideas or behaviors that will change their assumptions, paradigms or belief systems. And until they do so, they will not let you out of the box; regardless of how hard you work at it.

The fourth psychological truth that is foundational to the strategy for getting out of the box states:

“People learn to believe what they hear themselves say.”

Meaning, we have to change the conversations that are being perpetuated about us in the hallways, evaluation sessions, succession planning meetings, etc. Because, until the conversation changes you will remain in the box.

You’ve got to be asking, “How in the world do I change the conversation people are having about me?” There are actually eight steps you can take to launch your own PR campaign within an organization that will lead you out of the box, and help others let you out.

  1. Accept Reality:   Accept the reality of the perceptions people hold of you. Until you do, you will continue with a victim mentality as you consider how unfair it is that people won’t give you a break. And victims never get out of the box. They simply perpetuate it.  And that’s not pretty.
  2. Own it if you’ve blown it!  If you have actually made mistakes or “blown it” in some manner, then you’ve got to own it. Stop rationalizing, justifying and blaming.  That’s not pretty either.  These behaviors will keep you in the box. You actually have to step up, humble yourself and offer some apologies to the people you’ve offended or harmed.
  3. Learn how to Apologize:  Many of you don’t actually know what an apology sounds like. “I’m sorry if you were offended” is not an apology. You are blaming them for their over-sensitivity “I’m sorry that was hurtful, but . . .” is not an apology. You are deflecting blame elsewhere or are about to rationalize your behavior or justify your intentions. These backhanded apologies will not get you where you want to go, but will only serve to reinforce the negative perceptions you are trying to overcome. An apology sounds something like this: “When I did . . ., acted like . . . or said . . . I realize I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me.”
  4. Get Help:  Get with an Executive Coach, your Organizational Development or your Human Resources Department and ask them for their help. There is nothing quite like a 360 survey and a psychological assessment in the hands of a trained professional to give you insight into how you are being perceived and why. These trained professionals are also equipped to help you narrow your focus on the one or two things you can change that will make the greatest impact. You don’t need a total personality makeover. In fact, you need to build on the strengths of your personality and personal style. But you do need to be aware that even your strengths have what I call “a shadow side”.  Too often people see your shadow before they see the real you, and that’s a little unfortunate.
  5. Set Goals:  Establish some specific development goals regarding things that you want to change or improve. I am talking no more than 2-3 specific goals.
  6. Get Change Enforcers:  Along with accountability to your Executive Coach, share those goals with three to five people in your organization whom you trust, who are invested in your success and who have the potential to influence the conversation about you in your organization. I call these people your “change enforcers”. Let them know what you’re working on and why, and ask them to simply be an observer of you over the next several months as you work your plan. Let them know that you will check with them sometime later to see what differences they are noticing.
  7. Work your plan: Now this is hard work that requires patience. You may believe you are making every effort to change and don’t seem to see any change in perceptions or in the conversations about you. You may even get frustrated that people don’t seem to be letting you out of the box fast enough. However, if the changes are significant and visible enough, the conversation about you may well be changing and you are simply not yet aware of it.
    • If you have been perceived as a self-interested self-promoter you may not get the feedback directly. No one wants to feed an inflated ego with more compliments.
    • Consider an Accountability Jar, where you place a significant amount of money into the jar every time you behave in a manner that is inconsistent with your desired goals. “Significant amount” means that it needs to hurt enough to get your attention. The money will be donated to a favorite non-profit.  Make the jar clear.  Set it on the front of your desk so others can see it and ask you about it.
    • One of my clients used foul language to the point that it had become very offensive to others in his organization. He was perceived as an arrogant, condescending, self-promoter that few people wanted to work with. Now this would get you fired in most organizations, but his executives had extended more patience than most. He put a “Cuss Jar” on his desk that he put $10 in every time he let out a swear word.  His behavior was modified within months.
    • Another client was loud and boisterous and he used a “Loud Mouth” jar in a similar manner.
    • Another executive was perceived to be a “teller” rather than a “teacher”, and he used his jar as a way to remind himself to not get carried away, telling his colleagues what was wrong with their work and telling them how to do it “right”.  His contributions to his jar reminded him to ask better questions and become a better teacher.
  8. Solicit New Conversation:  Four to six months after you have shared your goals and after you have been working on these behaviors, return to these same three to five “change enforcers” and ask them this question: “What behaviors have you noticed over the last few months that let you know that I am making progress toward achieving my development goals?”
    • The goal of this question is to jump start the new conversation about you. Because psychological truth #4 says they won’t believe it until they hear themselves say it.
    • While they may still see that you have some work to do, you have begun to change the conversation, and can continue to work on the behaviors that will help reinforce the new conversations they are having.

Good luck on thriving and surviving life in your organization.

Getting Out of the Box: Not for the Faint of Heart.

In previous posts you have become familiar with a couple of psychological truths that you must grasp if you hope to find your way out of the box in which you have found yourself.

The first of these four truths is:

“If you are in a box, you don’t get out until they let you out.”

Meaning, regardless of how you got there, or whether it is fair, you often find yourself in a box that only they can let you out of.

The second truth:

“People buy with their emotions and justify with facts.”

Meaning that it is either human nature or human laziness that lead us to look for facts or behaviors that confirm what we already hold to be true, or to which we are emotionally attached. It seems to be easier for us to keep people in the box we have them in than it is for us to objectively reconsider our assessments of them.

The third psychological truth:

“The receiver of novel information has no paradigmatic hooks to make sense of the new information (or behavior) they have just heard (or seen).”

Meaning that people are not accustomed to incorporating new ideas or behaviors that will change their assumptions, paradigms or belief systems.  Until they do so, they will not let you out of the box, regardless of how hard you work at it.

But thankfully there is a fourth psychological truth that is foundational to the strategy for getting out of the box. That truth states:

“People learn to believe what they hear themselves say.”

Those rumors, those evaluations, those conversations in the hallways, management meetings, or succession planning discussions . . . those are the things that keep you in the box. You cannot get out of the box until the conversation about you changes.  Because people do not believe what they cannot hear themselves say with confidence.

Those of you who are in business can accept this truth on a public relations level. Once again, there is an entire discipline, dedicated to one of this truth.  Companies spend billions of dollars each year ensuring that the conversations that people are sharing about them or their products are positive and accurate depictions, that will keep consumers engaged.  Think Apple! What’s the conversation about Apple and their products? It would take a lot to sway the public’s opinion of them.

I saw a humorous satirical cartoon that depicted PR at its worst:

Hillary Propped by Media

Now, in order to get out of the box, we are not talking about putting a political spin or cover up on our mistakes. But we are talking about changing the conversation so that it takes into account the new behaviors we are working on and trying to exhibit more consistently.

After covering these four psychological truths, you at least know what got you in the box, what keeps you there, and the challenges you face in developing a strategy to get out of the box.   Or maybe these truths are new to you and you can see how easy it is to be placed in a box, and now you are going to use everything at your disposal to keep from ever being put in a negative box that you don’t want to be in.

Like a true Executive Coach, I don’t want to leave you in the dark.  Our next post will outline some steps you can take to get out of the box you find yourself in. Or should I say, the steps you can take to increase the likelihood that they will let you out of the negative box, and at place you in a more positive one.

Beginning to See your Way Out of the Box

boxed inIn my last two posts you have become familiar with a couple of psychological truths that you must grasp if you hope to find your way out of the box that you have found yourself in.  The first one is:

“If you are in a box, you don’t get out until they let you out.”

Meaning, regardless of how you got there, or whether it is fair, you often find yourself in a box that only they can let you out of.

And, the second psychological truth is:

“People buy with their emotions and justify with facts.”

Meaning that it is either human nature or human laziness that lead us to look for facts or behaviors that confirm what we already hold to be true or to which we are emotionally attached. This seems to be easier for us than it is for us to objectively reconsider our assessments of people. None of us can escape this truth. However, in order to be more effective we must be more aware it’s existence and how it affects us and others around us.

These are just a couple of reasons that it’s so hard to get out of the box that we find ourselves in, whether we are their because of misperceptions, rumors, or our own mistakes and failures.

The next psychological truth is a little more challenging to understand as it relates to getting out of the box. And like all these truths, it too has many more applications than simply helping you find your way out of the box.   This truth states:

“The receiver of novel information has no paradigmatic hooks to make sense of the new information (or behavior) they have just heard (or seen).”

We are probably more familiar with this truth on other levels than that of changing people’s perception of us. We have all be in situations where we presented a new, and what we thought to be, brilliant idea to a group, only to have one or more of them shut it down with negative responses about how it won’t work. Even if the idea truly is brilliant and could be highly effective, there is no way it can make sense to the receivers of novel or “new” information. That’s because they have no paradigm or “paradigmatic hooks” on which to hang this new idea. It simply does not seem to resonate with what they already know, their current way of thinking about the situation, or with what they have already bought into or attached themselves to.

The good news is that those who hear the new information or ideas do not necessarily dismiss them altogether. The information tends to stay floating around in the whirlwind of the mind from which we make sense of information. Frequently as the information floats around, it eventually lands on paradigmatic hooks that finally allow them to make sense of it. However, when they do make sense of it, to them, it doesn’t resemble what they heard from you. That’s why, six months after you presented an idea that got shot down, someone else presents a strikingly similar idea as if it were his or her own. When you tell them that this is the same thing that you presented earlier that got shot down, they may actually swear that its not.

So you ask, how does this relate to helping me get out of the box? You have to accept the truth that new behaviors, just like novel information is difficult for the receiver to incorporate. To see you in a different light requires a paradigm shift, or shift in their thinking and in belief system. And as we all know, such a shift or change is hard. In fact we are masters at resisting these changes on so many levels. That’s why there is an entire disciplined dedicated to “change management.”  Now your probably beginning to see the value of engaging an Executive Coach to guide you along this journey.

Now that you’re beginning to see that there is a way out of the box, there is one more psychological truth that is critical to helping you find your way. It is the one truth that allows us to tie all these together and begin the work of digging ourselves out of the box or hole that we are in. We will cover that truth in our next post.

 

I’m In a Box and I Want Out!

In a recent post (I’m in a Box and I Can’t Get Out!) I described how everyone who works in an organization is in a box, the box of perceptions that others hold of us. Sometimes those boboxed inxes are favorable and we want to preserve them. At other times we are actually surprised by the box we find ourselves in, because our heart and intentions have been so different than how we are being perceived. Then there are times we are in a box because of mistakes we have made that we simply can’t seem to recover from. It’s these latter boxes we want so desperately get out of.

In order to get out of these negative boxes I suggested that there are a few psychological truths that you must first come to grips with. The first of which I discussed in the previous post:

“If you are in a box, you don’t get out until they let you out.”

As fair or unfair as this may seem, it is a reality. But, thankfully, it is a reality you can change. In my earlier post we discussed several options that may be helpful, from changing jobs or managers, to changing behaviors and waiting it out until people change their perceptions of you. Some of you are saying, “I don’t want to change jobs, and I don’t have time to wait this out.  Help me out here. I mean, some of these perceptions are career killers.”

To answer your obvious question, yes there is a way to accelerate the process, but there are a couple of more psychological truths you will have to wrestle with to make that happen. And believe me, it requires some “wrestling”, and it takes time, persistence, consistency and patience.  This is also where working with an Executive Coach can be incredibly helpful. So let’s get started.

The next psychological truth you will need to grasp is:

 “People buy with their emotions and justify with facts.”

As a business professional, you know the truth of this statement as it relates to marketing. Every consumer product company in the world spends billions of dollars annually appealing to your emotions to sway you to justify the purchase of their product.  They are pretty good at it too. All of us have made purchases of things we didn’t need and some of which we really couldn’t afford, all because of our emotions. That is one of the reasons that Americans are in debt up to their hairline and aren’t saving anything for retirement.

I know, you’re asking what this has to do with me getting out of this box. It has everything to do with it.

The reason you are in the box you are in is because of the emotions people have attached to you. If people see you as a prickly, volatile person, they will look for the facts or behaviors that confirm their emotions and perceptions of you. The strength of the emotion they attach to their perceptions will determine whether they are open to adjusting their view based on any positive behaviors you may exhibit, or whether they simply discount those behaviors in order to leave you in their box. Unfortunately, leaving you in the box is so much easier and more convenient for those who hold these perceptions. It is easier for people to confirm what they already think than it is for them to change their mind. And changing their mind is a significant challenge, but not impossible.

I know you are saying, “Tony, this is all well and good, but I am not out of my box yet?” Before you can work your way out of the box there is are one or two more psychological truths that you will have to accept and wrestle with. Only then can you begin building a strategy for getting out. And those psychological truths are topics for another post.

In a Box and Can’t Get Out?

boxed inIf you happen to work in an organization, like most of the audience who reads this post, there is a reality you must come to grips with.  We are all in a box.  That box is constructed out of the perceptions others have of us.  Right or wrong, fair or unfair, it seems like it’s just human nature for us to put people in boxes.  We tend to categorize people into boxes based on past experience, personal observations and hearsay from others with whom we and/or they interact.  I guess it’s simply easier for us to put people in boxes and leave them there than it is for us to keep an open mind and continually and objectively reevaluate our assessments.

Please understand, not all boxes are bad.  If you are perceived as an exceptional leader for all the right reasons, then you may like the box you’re in, and work hard to maintain it.  If you are perceived as a kind and generous person or a valued mentor, you may want to work hard to preserve that box as well.  But through years of Executive Coaching I have noticed how easy it is for people to be placed in a box that they don’t necessarily like, and how difficult it is for them to get out.  I have also seen leaders surprised by the box they have found themselves in. Never in their wildest dreams did they think they would ever be perceived in such a way.

People get “boxed in” for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes it is your new boss who does not like your style, so your evaluations begin to plummet.  Sometimes it is the new team you’ve have been assigned to lead who resist your new management style, or it’s your peers who thought they should have been selected for the job instead of you who tend to “throw you under the bus”.  Sometimes it is a mistake you made from which you cannot seem to recover. Sometimes it is unfounded rumors that wreak havoc on your reputation.  Sometimes a colleague you worked with or were close to blew it, and people judge you by association.  Sometimes, you have simply blown it in your interactions with others, and regardless of your efforts, that cloud keeps hanging over you, locking you into your box.

Sometimes the box you are, that you don’t necessarily like, is actually the right box for you at this time. For example, you may be a strong individual contributor who aspires to be a leader, but cannot seem to get out of the box you have been assigned to in order to demonstrate your leadership capabilities.  Maybe your personal style calls for significant changes that you have not quite mastered yet that prevent you from being seen in a different light.  The sooner your accept that this is the box you are in, the sooner you can create strategies for getting out.

Regardless of how you ended up in the box you’re in, there is a psychological truth that you must know:

“Once you are in a box, you don’t get out until they let you out.”

The true challenge then is how to get out of the box you don’t want to be in.  Some simply chose to leave their boss, team or organization for a fresh start with a new box.  That can be good option that turns out well.  But if you have not accepted this psychological truth, you’re likely to find yourself facing the same situation again.  Others work really hard to change their behavior and claw their way out of the box.  This is also a good option.  Given time, this change in behavior can lead to a change in people’s perceptions of you and can result in them letting you out of the box.

However, I have seen many leaders work hard to change their behaviors, and be incredibly disappointed that they were not allowed out of their box.  The negative perceptions persisted and their careers seemed to stall.

You ask, is there a solution? Yes, there is a way out of the box.  In order to get out of the box you must change the conversation about you in the organization.  While that’s a challenge, it is not impossible. And there are ways to accelerate that change, but there are a couple of more psychological truths that you will have to come to grips with first.  Those we will cover in a future post.