Change Work November 2013

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When I started studying Neuro-Linguistic Programming it was a revelation to me to discover how much of our everyday behaviour is unconscious.  You can't be aware of everything you're doing: your posture, gestures, facial expression, tone of voice etc.  They are driven by what you're thinking and the state you are in - and learning how to control your state is an important skill in life.

But more surprising than that was the realisation that the choices you make are also automatic and unconscious much of the time. Even when you seem to be making a decision based on a rational appraisal of the pros and cons, you will almost always be biased in your selection.  And at the root of your bias are your values.

Your values are what actually matters to you (not necessarily what you think ought to matter) and you probably aren't too clear about what these things are.  Some might be easy to identify, such as "family" or "security", but there will be others that you might not recognise.

How can this be?

With all of my coaching clients I do a "values elicitation".  This involves making a "top-of-the-head" list of what's important to them (e.g. family, job satisfaction, security etc) and then asking, for each item, "What does that get for you?", and to keep repeating that question to drill down deeper and deeper.  Eventually we discover their fundamental values, the things that matter most and drive everything they do - although it's mostly an unconscious drive.

One that comes up nearly every time is "recognition" or some similar variant such as "being valued".

Not surprising you might say.  We're social animals and rely on the other members of our group for emotional as well as material support.  What is surprising is the extent to which this value can influence your behaviour.

For example, in a meeting, if you've made what you think is an important point (or just a clever one?) you want it to be acknowledged - and may try to prevent the discussion moving on until your contribution has been recognised.  Maybe, your point is ahead of everyone else's thinking, or perhaps tangential to it, so they don't get it and ignore what you've said.  If you value recognition then that's very unsatisfactory.  Even more painful is when someone else makes the same point a few minutes later and everyone responds positively!  You might say, ungraciously, "I just said that!" or you quietly stew in resentment.

Similarly, when you're co-operating with others to solve a problem or to move a project forward, you probably offer suggestions related to the things you are good at.  And that's to be expected, you know about those things and so tend to think of them first.  But if you identify yourself with that knowledge then you'll push your ideas beyond their merit - ignoring other options - because it's really about validating you.

And then related to this is the self-defeating habit of volunteering for things that you don't really want to do.  Because the role contains an element of something you're good at, such as IT for example, you see it as an opportunity to be useful - and hence to be valued - and you discount the other aspects of the job that you're not interested in.  When this bias is put into practice, it rapidly becomes a burden as the unpleasant jobs pile up and you start to feel overwhelmed.

Once you're aware of these negative effects you can start to counter them.

In the meeting example, if the point is genuinely valuable, then the important thing is for everyone to be aware of it and to make use of it.  It doesn't matter who thought of it.  So, if you are focused on the outcome, you'll be able to overwrite the previous pattern that was looking for recognition.  That "previous pattern" is a habit that you've developed over time and probably don't notice any more.  But when you do take notice, you can then put your own need for recognition to one side and allow the group to move on.

The same strategy will help you to stop taking on things that you imagine will bring you praise when in fact you'll do a bad job because it's not really what you enjoy.  If your top concern is to make the project a success, then you'll want to do things that further the common aims rather than what might earn you admiration or respect.  So consciously ask yourself, "What can I do to move things forward?"  This opens up other possibilities, some of which may offer no kudos for you, but which you can choose to do.  You'll find that it can be satisfying to do something like that even if nobody else notices!

The need for recognition is an example of a personal value that does you more harm than good.  Like other "bad values" that drive self-damaging behaviours, it can be overcome with awareness and practice.  Let me know your experience of this or if you need any help in dealing with it.