Did you know that most of the drama going on in your workplace started with a thought that probably isn’t even true?
When you accept your thoughts as true, they become beliefs, even if they are untested, inaccurate, and flat-out false. You make up a lot of stuff about what’s going on in the world based on your beliefs.
When beliefs are connected to an emotion, you act on them whether they are objectively true or false. An employee who believes her manager is out to get her might feel fear and behave disrespectfully toward her supervisor or refuse to meet with her. A manager who believes she is not knowledgeable or is unprepared may feel threatened and behave in a manner that is overly aggressive or perhaps dismissive of others. If employees believe senior management is clueless, they might feel insecure and find other jobs, resulting in higher than average turnover for a company or contributing to a culture of passive aggressiveness where employees pretend to go along but actually subvert company goals.
Thus, although you like to think of yourself as a rational, logical being, you are closer to the “dumb, panicky dangerous animal” described by the character Kay in the 1997 film Men in Black. You allow your emotions (based on your beliefs) to dictate your behavior without investigating the degree to which your beliefs are supported by factual data.
“People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.” Men in Black
In the end, you may end up manipulated by your beliefs and act like someone you don’t necessarily want to be.
To test your beliefs, a process like that pioneered by Byron Katie is a good place to start when examining issues or people that really frustrate you. Use these steps to start unpacking and eliminating these frustrations:
- Describe the Frustration as Judgmentally as Possible. For example, “I’m frustrated with my team because they are so incompetent that I need to babysit them all the time or else nothing will get done.”
- Take Stock of Your Behavior. What do you do or say when you believe this thought? Maybe you micromanage your team. Maybe you talk down to them or berate them.
- What’s the Payoff? How is this thought serving you, your team, or your company? What are the positives that come from having this thought?
- What are the Facts? What data supports the truth of your thought? Is there any data to suggest your belief is false regarding this frustration?
- Other Possibilities. How would you act if you believed the opposite of your current frustrating thought?
- Alternate Feeling or Emotion: Instead of frustration, what feeling would you rather have regarding this situation?
- It’s Your Choice: Who do you want to be in this situation – the person who believes the thought or the person who doesn’t believe this thought? Is there a productive reason to keep believing this thought?
Regardless of the frustration, examining your underlying beliefs will help you become aware of the limitations that keep you stuck in your reactions. You may come to see that the frustration comes from your interpretation of the situation, not the situation itself. When you become aware of your beliefs, you take a giant step toward becoming a more centered and clear-headed leader.