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.

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