Yes, I said “BS.” Let’s start at the beginning:
Question: What makes a problem a problem?
Before I answer this question, how would you answer it? Think of a recent situation you’d define as a problem. Got it? Now, describe that problem. For example, “I was frustrated because I was stuck in traffic.”
What was the problem? Being stuck in traffic wasn’t the problem. Being late wasn’t the problem. Was feeling frustrated the problem? Almost. My feeling or emotion of frustration (interpreted by my brain as a negative, painful emotion) resulted in my behavior (honking my horn).
But where did THAT feeling come from? It came from BS.
Answer: Bulls*&t? Could be. Belief System (which are often interchangeable concepts). My BELIEF (or my “rule”) was that if I was late to my meeting, then I would feel pain. Was that bulls%t? Maybe, maybe not.
Recent studies in the field of social cognitive neuroscience show our human brain works harder to avoid pain than to seek pleasure. My brain was working hard, very hard. Maybe as a child being late was severely punished. Maybe I had one negative experience being late for a meeting (and feeling embarrassed or ?) which combined to create a cellular memory (or rule so I didn’t let it happen again in the future) of pain so my brain could keep me safe.
So what makes a problem a problem is the not only the negative or painful emotion attached to it, but the rule or pattern your brain created when it connected the feeling to a situation in the past and projected it into the future.
So, why is this important? Empathy. The #1 secret to keeping cool under pressure is drumming up the feeling of empathy. Because of the wiring in our brain, we cannot feel empathy and angry at the same time … the experience of empathy occurs in a different part of the brain and we can’t feel both at the same time.
Next time a peer or colleague gets upset about a situation you feel is “no big deal” and you wonder why she’s so upset, just say “it’s not her, it’s just her brain.”
Perhaps empathy on your part could subvert a potential conflict or misunderstanding and you both could get the job done more easily.
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Who was your favorite boss, coach or teacher? Your tough situation that turned out to be your greatest inspiration? I’ll bet you could tell some stories … well, here’s mine from a recent post I wrote for Leaders at The LeadChange Group Blog:
Some of the most powerful leadership lessons I’ve experienced have not come from my high school swim coach, my first inspirational boss or any leadership guru at all. One of the first teachers of my most powerful lessons in what makes great leaders great weighed in at just over a thousand pounds, had four legs, a tail and really big teeth, which he never brushed.
His name was Banjo and he was a horse … of course, of course.
Early on, I struggled, often for hours, trying to get Banjo into the horse trailer so we could go somewhere, a trail ride, the vet or moving from California to Colorado. I would start out calmly, then as he got more stubborn, putting two front feet in then flying out backwards as fast as he could run, I would get frustrated, then angry and then … well, let’s just say I tried all the tricks in the book; coercion, threats, intimidation, pressure and yes, pain. Do these old-style management tactics sound familiar?
An old, scruffy, wise cowboy helped me see the writing in the dirt. After working with Banjo for just a few minutes, then loading him easily several times, he politely tipped his hat to me and said, “Excuse me ma’am. If I can say … what you have here is not a loading problem, it’s a leading problem.”
What you have here is not a loading problem, it’s a leading problem.
A brutal a blow to my “know it all” ego, but he was right. Horses are prey animals and herd animals, who follow trustworthy leaders instinctively. I was not a trustworthy leader in Banjo’s eyes. Being a predator, we were already at odds. Trailers are caves. What lives in caves? Bears, cougars and other predators who eat horses. I was an angry predator to Banjo, with unpredictable emotions and not an ounce of empathy to try to see the world through his eyes.
From that moment on, the lesson “You can judge the quality of your communication by the response you get” became crystal clear. It was my responsibility to take 100% ownership in the quality of my communication … and ask for a “do -over.”
Lucky for me horses are very forgiving creatures … and in my eyes, the most powerful teachers I could ever ask for.
Who have been your most unlikely, yet powerful teachers?[sharebox4 sharetext=”Share This Page”] [/sharebox4]